Day 1: Portland to Lincoln City
The first day of our week-long bike trip through Oregon was also the longest day of the trip, at least from a mileage standpoint. After having unloaded our bikes from the boxes we had shipped via AMTRAK Express, we discovered we both had rear flats (coincidence or AMTRAK conspiracy?), so we thought it prudent to get an early start to the day.
Crossing the eastern part of Portland by bike light was surprisingly easy. Portland has great bicycle infrastructure, and combined with the deserted streets of a pre-dawn Saturday morning, we made quick work of the first few miles and over Broadway Bridge as the sun began to rise.
Climbing out of the western part of Portland brought on a sense of euphoria that had Anthony flying up the hills and though more heavily weighed down, I was happy to give chase. This euphoria was soon blunted, however, by another rear flat on my bike. Nearly an hour and several patches/tubes later, we returned to the route, but not before one of the many cyclists that passed us returned for a second go-around and couldn’t resist the temptation to heckle us. Overall, our interactions with Portland’s cycling community were very positive and even this chap kept his joking good-natured enough that we were able to laugh along.
The stretch immediately west of Portland’s suburbs and heading into Yamhill County are covered by fertile Willamette Valley farmland and the occasional vineyard. It was here that we also began to notice what great shape Oregon’s roads are in (a theme we’d find true throughout our entire journey). In California, by contrast, it often seems that the repaving of roads leads to a less bike-friendly surface and there are many beautiful cycling routes that could use some new tarmac.
Yamhill Vineyards was our approximate halfway point for the day at some 55 miles in. In an earlier iteration of our bike trip, I had hoped to spend more time exploring the Willamette Valley and its vineyards, but as the coast and Crater Lake became the focus of the trip, I had settled for one stop at a vineyard.
Yamhill Vineyards was an oasis from the heat, albeit one that can only be reached by climbing the ridiculously steep hill you see below. Yamhill makes the best Riesling either of us have ever tasted and that’s not just the heat exhaustion talking! After our wine-tasting break we refilled our bottles and got back out on the road, where temperatures were reaching the high 90’s.
Our next stop along HWY 18 to the coast was a bit of an oddity. Along the highway appeared a sign for a Salvador Dali exhibit. Anthony was interested right away and I was intrigued, so we gave it a go. Turns out there were just a few Dali items, and fewer that I found interesting (maybe I just don’t understand that kind of art), but one or two caught our eyes. Of course, with a price tag of $20k+ and so little room on our bikes, we had to pass. Still, any air-conditioned room is a good place to take a break on days such as these.
A few miles farther down the road, we made another stop. We were running low on liquids (it didn’t help that Anthony decided not to bring water bottles on the trip!), so we took a break at a country store and ordered the “double-scoop” of Tillamook Mint Chip ice cream. What we ended up with were the two largest cones of ice cream I’ve ever seen, such that it was impossible to contain them without stuffing them into cups.
The headwinds began in earnest as we got closer to the coast and while Anthony’s afternoon ice cream was being deposited on the roadside, my saddle soreness was beginning to develop. We passed through Otis, a town that had been described to us as being so small that the entirety of it was purchased for $5 million a few years back.
After Otis, it was just a short cruise into Lincoln City (and I say cruise because we were seriously flagging). We finished the day with 106.5 miles and lots of hills.
Entering Devil’s Lake State Park, I was reminded immediately why I love Oregon State Parks. The ranger charged us $6 per person for hiker/biker sites and gave us some good suggestions about where to set up camp and what to do about dinner. While Devil’s Lake doesn’t have the best sites, we appreciated the cheap price-tag and friendly ranger.
The other reason I love the Oregon State Park System is that the many hiker/biker opportunities make it a destination for numerous other cyclists, which results in camaraderie between fellow touring cyclists. At Devil’s Lake, we met a Belgian and a Dutchman, who had started in Canada and were planning to take a full three months to cycle to Mexico. They had beautiful Koga World Traveller bikes and were clearly well-supplied for the long journey, but in no hurry to finish. A bit slow for my taste, but good on them for doing it the way they want…that’s the beauty of bicycle touring. So many ways to explore!
Day 2: Lincoln City to Newport
The second morning of the trip we awoke a bit stiff and with the discovery that a crafty chipmunk or squirrel had managed to wander into sealed panniers to pilfer my almond supply. I know it was a rodent and not Anthony because he’s allergic to almonds, but now that I think about it more, I suspect there may have been collusion!
We exited the hiker/biker at Devil’s Lake ahead of most of our fellow cyclists and headed straight out for our first seciont of coastal riding after the Willamette Valley heat of the day before. What a difference! Foggy, temperatures in the low 60’s: this is what I remember from my last bicycle trip through Oregon.
After covering just enough miles to recognize that we were already a bit saddle-sore, we stopped for a great breakfast at Pacific Grind coffee shop on the south end of Lincoln City. I highly recommend this spot, which featured delicious baked goods and well-prepared coffee.
As is to be expected, passing Depoe Bay resulted in several stops to whale-watch along with all of the car-driving folk. In some instances on this day and the next, though, we had only to look out to the right while riding in order to glimpse the spouting blowholes and the shape of long, smooth backs breaking the water’s surface.
At one particular lookout (which I remembered having stopped at with Johanna two years earlier), we talked with a number of fellow bicycle tourists, including two men that ride the coast every year, bringing full camping gear but rarely camping. These guys were awesome, loaded with front and rear panniers and waterproof duffels over the top of the rear rack, but we couldn’t help but wonder why they bothered to bring camping gear at all. Maybe we will understand when we are older, but I doubt it.
We also had a photo taken at a scenic overlook by a friendly man and his wife, who had done many bike tours. He left us by saying, “just enjoy it while you can, because eventually some guy will stab you in the gut and you won’t be able to do it anymore.” Apparently, this actually happened to this poor man, but maybe not the best way to end the conversation?
About 10-15 miles outside of Newport, the 101 heads up a hill, but an older iteration continues along the waterfront, providing cyclists with a natural advantage over car-propelled travelers. The secluded 101 alternate passes over Rocky Creek Bridge, which also happens to be featured on the front of the Oregon Coast Bike Map that can be found at state parks.
This bridge is worth a good, long stop, and the literature found there reveals the bridge’s history, as part of an early motor-vehicle route between Lincoln City and Newport. That 30+ mile journey took early drivers nearly a full 24-hour period to complete, while we rode our bikes the length of it in just 3-4 casual hours.
What with all the whale-watching and scenic coastal terrain viewing, we were getting a bit parched. Having enjoyed our stop at Yamhill Vineyards the day before, we decided that passing by The Flying Dutchman wine-tasting stop by Devil’s Punchbowl just as they opened for business was a sign from above. While we didn’t find the wine to quite match that of Yamhill, it was a worthy stop and we enjoyed conversing with the woman running shop.
Next up on our dazzling tour of some of Oregon’s most attractive seaside was the Yaquina Lighthouse. More whale-watching ensued along the adjacent coves and despite being mauled by large flies as we stood below the impressive lighthouse, this stop is another must-do. As we departed the lighthouse we had another sighting of the Belgian and Dutch cyclists, but onward we went, for we knew there would be beer at the end of the day’s ride.
After carefully following the coast bike route signs on the most indirect route through Newport, we passed one of only two bike shops we would see on our entire trip. Unfortunately, no new water bottles were purchased there, as the bike shop in Newport does not open its doors on Sunday!
Arriving at South Beach Campground midday (something that would turn out to be rare on this trip), we were greeted by not only the usual cheap hiker/biker rates, but also a welcome center with free coffee/tea and outlets to charge our electronics. I can’t say enough about the Oregon State Parks and the way they are set up to make campers (and particularly those arriving by foot or on two wheels) feel comfortable and well cared-for.
We set up camp quickly, because the bicycle tourists’ hunger was rearing its ugly head and more importantly, South Beach Campground is just a mile of bike path from the famous Rogue Brewery. A series of tastings, pints, and rounds of pub food ensued. Rogue hits the mark! Just make sure you get there early, because the waiting line for the small dining and bar space was 30+ people long when we left at around 4pm.
Day 3: Newport to Florence
The third day of our trip featured some serious hammering. We had a tailwind with us, the road was in great shape, scenic, and flat. Before we knew it, we had made Yachats and our breakfast stop at the Green Salmon, some 20 miles into the ride. The Green Salmon now occupies a special place in bike tour lore as the second best breakfast stop ever (you can find my favorite by checking out Day 4 of my Portland to San Francisco bike tour or just wait another day into this one!).
This establishment is very green/organic/vegan/gluten-free, which sometimes can almost be a turnoff for me. However, in this case, we had chocolate croissants and scones and mexican coffee and chai lattes and everything was absolutely delicious. The service was warm and friendly and the Green Salmon was packing a full house, another good sign, yet we were able to occupy a great table outside next to our bikes. A very worthwhile stop, indeed!
Post-meal, we continued on a solid pace, finding our rhythm in a way we had failed to truly do on the first couple days. This section of Oregon coast is not only good riding, though.
To me, Cape Perpetua is the Big Sur of Oregon. The stretch of coastal beauty that we passed on the second half of the day’s ride made serious attempts at outstripping Big Sur as the most spectacular coastline I’ve witnessed in the USA.
Cape Perpetua has many of the same elements as Big Sur, including: jagged coastline, heavily forested sections, windswept vistas, impressively built depression-era bridges (and some new ones, too), and serpentine roads that wind their way up and down the coastal hills. In addition, the areas approaching and past the city of Florence feature sand dunes that seem entirely out of place in such close proximity to the dense greenery of the adjacent forests.
After managing to side-step the biggest tourist trap on the Oregon coastal bike route (for just a bit more about the Sea Lion Caves, read here), we ran into the third or fourth sign we’d seen of a cartoon horse asking us to “come ride with me.” Apparently, some enterprising fellow with a stable full of horses has colonized the Oregon coastline with horseback riding venues. The horse pictured below seemed pretty mellow…in that it did not move more than an inch or two as I moved all around it taking photos (it also appeared to be the oldest horse in the history of the world, so maybe that’s why).
Along the Oregon section of the Pacific Coast Route, one runs into a number of these coastal chains, such as the ever-present Mazatlan Mexican restaurant, Mo’s Restaurant, and Dutch Brothers Coffee (a preponderance of drive-thru coffee stands in general, really). Mo’s restaurant is a staple of seaside Oregon towns, despite having universally low ratings on Yelp. We were told by a fellow touring cyclist that we should put the reviews aside and give it a fair try, particularly the clam chowder, but we didn’t really have a good opportunity to take on that challenge.
Before continuing on with the fun parts of this post, I must point out that for touring cyclists, a great opportunity presents itself upon entering the northern end of Florence. Just across the street along the main route sits a laundromat with good and fast machines, where one might also rest a sore backside on a cushy couch, charge electronics, and utilize free wi-fi. It’s called 37th St. Coin-Operated Laundromat and Showers.
After the laundry stop, a consistent tailwind pushed us into the town proper and over the bridge towards our camp for the night, Honeyman State Park. I had high hopes for this campsite, because on a previous bike trip it had been a true highlight of bicycle touring camaraderie, and we were certainly not disappointed. As we set up camp on the edge of the communal firepit, cyclists came into the hiker/biker site by their ones and twos until at least a dozen of us had settled in for the night.
Day 4: Florence to Cottage Grove
Knowing we had a long and unpredictable day ahead of us, Anthony and I were the first to rise from what had been a late night. After several days of breaking camp under our belts, the routine was becoming quick and efficient. Before we left Honeyman Campground entirely though, one more peek at the dunes and Cleawox Lake was in order. Much as it had been two years earlier on my last morning viewing, the lake and dunes were blanketed by fog, although this time the skies were already clearing above the serene morning below.
The first few miles south after Honeyman State Park features several lakes. One in particular, I had remembered from my previous trip. A photo I had taken from the roadside of Tahkenitch Lake had been calling to me for most of the previous day’s riding, and I knew that this place had to be coming soon. We were so impressed by this lake that we spent a good half-hour there, hanging out on the dock and then eating blackberries from a nearby bush. It would have been easy to stay longer, perhaps for the rest of the day, but we rousted ourselves and got back to riding.
We entered the Reedsport area (actually Gardiner – just north of Reedsport), wondering aloud what the previous incarnation of this place had been. A number of large, abandoned or at least underutilized buildings sit at the confluence of the Smith and Umpqua Rivers. We surmised that their might once have been a booming logging industry here, as we had just passed through an area of forest that was clearcut, a veritable arbor boneyard. As it turns out, that guess was mostly correct, as Gardiner was the first West Coast plant location for the International Paper Co. A detailed history of the city, which is now recognized by the US government as an “historical place” is available here.
One of the greatest culinary delights of our trip occurred in the unassuming town of Reedsport, where after 20 miles riding, we made our breakfast stop. I knew the place because Johanna and I had stopped there for breakfast as well, and again, Harbor Light Family Restaurant did not disappoint! I ordered a delicious meal of fresh marionberry pancakes and wild boar sausage and Anthony gorged on french toast, eggs, english muffins, and so on. Much coffee was drunk, charging of the batteries both figurative and literal occurred, and by the time we left the place, we were entirely sated.
For the second, but certainly not the last time on the day, we left a place wishing we could linger a bit longer. Within just a few miles up the Umpqua river, it happened again. This was to be the day of too many worthy stopping places and not enough hours of light.
Dean’s Creek Elk Viewing Area is a Bureau of Land Management designated site, a reclaimed marshland grazing space and an outstanding opportunity to spot the great elk. As happenstance would have it, Anthony flatted (mercifully, this time just a front flat) as we entered the viewing area so we took the opportunity to sit and watch and photograph and be yet again astounded by the beauty of nature. Picturesque is not a good enough word to describe it and my photos won’t do it full justice either. Suffice it to say, Dean’s Creek is another of Oregon’s “magical places.” We even got to observe a dominant buck courting his harem of lady-elk, making the screeching sound that elk sometimes make, thrashing his antlers about — being “the man.” Again, we stayed put for too long, but refused to regret it.
For about 20 miles we followed the Umpqua River along HWY 38, constantly in awe, consistently dismounting for photo and video opportunities, loving every minute, but increasingly nervous about the length of logging roads and backwoods to come.
And then it came upon us. The 50-mile, deserted logging road where we saw a grand total of four souls in at least as many hours. Punctuated by the “Hill from Hell,” a two-mile and 9% grade beast of a climb, this road most certainly took a year off of our lives. There were concerns about water shortage (which ended up being unfounded since the route followed the Smith River most of the way). There were eery suspicions that we were being watched from the forests that densely lined the quiet road (almost definitely legit, but probably not overly dangerous). There were moments when we began to doubt our own bodies and their willingness to complete this 105-mile day.
Five hours after it began, we finally reached the other side of our journey through the unnamed backwoods. We were pushed to the edge in many ways by this section of road, but it was also a true highlight for me. I have never been on such a decent quality road, with such impressive scenery, so far from civilization, and it did my spirit good to experience it.
As we emerged from the rubble of our own frailty, thirsty, hungry, tired, a bit broken, but awash in the glow of nature, a sign for the town of Lorane appeared. Our pace quickened, turning to an out-and-out sprint (or what may have looked like a senior citizens “walker race”) into the town gas station. After thoroughly ravaging the snack bins and cold beverages, we hopped on Lorane-to-Cottage-Grove-Road, which conveniently removed the guesswork from our navigation at the end of the day.
We reached our hotel room near dark with a pain not even the Comfort Inn can remedy. Unwilling to ride a single mile further to dine downtown, we ordered and consumed delivery pizza in short order and passed out.
Day 5: Cottage Grove to Toketee Falls
After a much-needed night in the Comfort Inn, we got a bit of a late start on the day, leaving Cottage Grove around 10:30am. It was extremely difficult to get out of the comfy sleeping conditions (little roadside motels become a luxury on bike trips), but we managed to stumble over to the lobby for the free continental breakfast. I ate quite a bit, but Anthony definitely attempted to bankrupt the establishment via consumption!
Back on the route, we entered the Cottage Grove bike path that heads east along the banks of Lake Dorena. While the town of Cottage Grove did not meet the shiny expectations we formed from viewing the Covered Bridges Scenic Bikeway video here, the bike path really is impressive.
The smoothly paved, asphalt path is easy riding and allows the mind to wander without fear of being struck down by motor vehicles. We also had many excellent views of Lake Dorena. The only real disappointment during our 15+ miles on the Row River Trail was that we saw but did not pass under a single covered bridge. Other riders we overheard at a rest stop had a similar complaint. Oh well! Still a pleasure to ride.
After the end of the bike path, the climbing began in earnest on Sharpe’s Creek Road, where we began to notice active mining claims and the complete absense of vehicles. We counted ten cars in the next couple hours of riding and our focus was redirected towards the embankments alongside the road. From time to time, miniature rockslides put a dose of fear into us and again we sensed that animals were watching us from deep within the trees. It’s striking how the elimination of constant contact with humanity brings about a heightened feeling of trepidation.
Anthony mentioned that he was happy to know that this part of his prehistoric brain had been preserved. This was one of many philosophical epiphanies we shared on this trip, most of which have now returned to my subconscious, but hopefully are not forgotten altogether. I’m not at all sure that what we experienced that afternoon was anything more than imagination let loose, but I agree with him anyway; it’s nice to think we used a sixth sense on that lonely stretch of road.
It could also be that we were just utterly exhausted, because this section of the day’s ride was also a 5-mile climb with over 2,000 feet of elevation gain. This works out to an 8% average grade, or pretty much the steepest a climb of this length ever gets on paved roads. For my friends back home, it most closely resembles the combination of Old San Marcos Road and Painted Cave…with touring gear in tow!
After descending most of the way down the other side of that climb, the miles were taking their toll, and as we were again short on water, we decided to pull over and boil some Umpqua River elixir. As luck would have it, there was a day-use area with an appealing swimming hole on the side of the road.
We made some food and boiled water, whilst simultaneously “river-chilling” two Mirror Pond Ales I had been grinding up the mountain with all day. This deliciously flavorful yet light beer from Deschutes Brewery became the official beer of our bike tour and this spot was, perhaps, the best of several sessions with it.
A word about this little piece of heaven we spent an hour taking in: I’ve only now come to know it as Scaredman Creek. I can only surmise they have named it in the convening period since our departure, what with the fear of rockslides and mountain lions from above, our wilting bodies crying from within, and the sun rapidly setting. Still, it was a fantastic place to be at that moment in time.
After our welcome respite, it was time to get a move on before the sun dropped too low overhead. The late start gave us a more restricted window with which to complete the 73-mile day and we had another steep climb, albeit a bit short, still to come. Before that climb came, however, we crossed the aptly-named Happy Creek and found Umqua’s Last Resort and accompanying general store.
The bounty of the rural general store is another of those treasures only truly appreciated by the hiker/biker set. We feasted on salted fare and stocked up on foodstuffs and IPA and Riesling to get us through the night. The Dry Creek General Store was staffed by two exceedingly friendly individuals who made our stop their even more pleasant. They explained that cyclists are not unusual for to the area, although touring cyclists are quite rare.
The last miles to our camp were covered with the resolve that comes with from a mostly-hydrated and fed touring cyclist who is ready for the day’s ride to cease. As we crested the last climb of the day, we had just another of the many unmarked forks in the road to decipher. Before moving on with the benefit of our Garmin 500 GPS units (completely necessary and incredibly appreciated during the second half of our bike trip), we stopped to look out over the expanse of wilderness below us.
Our camp was to be Toketee Lake Campground, and as we cruised into camp nearing dark, we rapidly selected a site away from scattered car-campers and close to a stream. The general theme over the last two days being, “if there’s a stream that you can walk to, take advantage of it,” we figured this would be the perfect place to spend the night.
Within a few minutes, I found my eyes lingering on the bark of the surrounding trees, or rather the bark that was conspicuously absent. After mentioning it to Anthony, he noticed that what appeared to be drawstrings once attached to food bags were dangling from hooks nailed into the trees all around us. There was no doubt about it. This campsite would not do. Bears.
We relocated to a new campsite in the center of the campground, intentionally wedging ourselves amongst a few groups of campers with cars, just in case we had a night-time visitor of size and determination. We scavenged half-burnt wood from nearby fire-rings and picked up what deadwood we could find and Anthony made a very agreeable fire. We drank all the IPA and Riesling that night, sharing some great campfire conversation and trying to put the thought of beasts in the darkness far from thought. When the alcohol was drunk and the fire had also taken its course, we settled into what was an uneasy, but uneventful night.
Day 6: Toketee Falls to Crater Lake
I awoke at first light, rested and ready to tackle one more day of climbing towards our lofty goal of Crater Lake. The top of the road leading to the lake is situated at about 7,500 feet above sea-level, making it the high point on this and any other bike trip I’ve undertaken thus far. After much indecisiveness about the merits of seeking out the fabled Umpqua Hot Springs, we decided the nearly three miles of dirt road each-way was too much of a liability and got back out on the highway. I do hope to return to this area some day and experience the hot springs, as well as have a go at some of the roads we traveled without all the 15-20 extra pounds of supplies.
Despite being solidly in-rhythm from nearly a week of riding, Anthony and I made slow progress on the lonesome slog towards Diamond Lake, our planned lunch-stop for the day. It didn’t help that every few miles we’d get a strong whiff of animal scent, clear indications that territory nearby had been marked. We hoped not to be crossing any boundaries. Again, we felt both fear and elation at the prospect of being so far from significant settlements, but mostly elation. During this bicycle journey, I lost track of the number of times a sense of awe washed over me, the moments when I looked around and knew all was right with the world and that Anthony and I were experiencing some of the best bits.
The historic Diamond Lake Resort was built a long, long time ago. I say that not just because I read the signs at the front of the building, but because we really did walk into a different era. This mountain lodge and diner looked mostly the same as I imagine it was when it first opened in the 1920’s, and in a way, I was happy about that. Not everything needs to be updated, and when traveling by bike, it’s much easier to appreciate establishments just on the account of their willingness to feed us. I had the most delicious open-faced turkey sandwich with mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce, washed down with as much coffee as I could stomach. Bike touring meals are THE BEST!
After charging our electronics and lingering a while in the diner, we remounted our bikes and soon we were passing through the northern entrance into Crater Lake National Park. Cyclists pay $5 for one-week passes, though most come through the gates in cars and then do just the scenic 30+ mile “rim loop.” Between the northern entrance and the first glimpse of the lake sits a lava field, barren and expansive. We stopped for a photo, which did not turn out well, probably because of our exhaustion and mind-numbing dehydration (how did we manage only to drink water at the Diamond Lake stop, I’ll never know?). However, the panorama photo below gives a sense of the place.
After climbing far more than we had hoped and expected, we were finally rewarded with magnificent views of Crater Lake from an observation looking down upon Wizard Island. We took a good while to take in deep blue alpine waters that filled the 2,000-foot vacancy left by what must have been one impressive volcano eruption. This was the moment we had been waiting for, climbing and climbing and suffering, stifling saddle-soreness and general fatigue. These are the things that prepare a person to fully appreciate life and the beauty directly in-frame. I know that Crater Lake would not have meant what it does to me now if I had gotten there from some metropolitan city in a matter of gasoline-fueled hours. I accept and value the discomfort I experienced. It was worth it.
After Anthony finished making friends with the local chipmunks, we decided to walk to the very top of the mountain, where a “watchman’s tower” stood guard over the forest for one-hundred miles in every direction. Once manned full-time by a fire-lookout, this place now serves as the very best viewpoint from which to take in the southern part of Oregon. It is also 8/10ths of a mile of uphill hiking that nearly bested us. We felt mostly good about our decision to go to the top once we saw the views, but it was not until two separate fellow-hikers to talk that we really felt good about the decision.
The first was a man, perhaps in his 50’s, who noticed my Cal Triple Crown jersey, which I earned by completing three double-century rides (200-mile, single day events) in one calendar year. He’d completed just about every double century out there and had earned the jersey several times over (I’m on my fourth consecutive year, currently). Clearly an endurance nut like us, he was hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, although he did not share enough for us to know if he planned to do it in its entirety.
Not two minutes after we split off from the man, a woman walked by, and then called back at us. She’d noticed my jersey, too, and her brother was a fellow wearer. She’d done many rides with her brother, including STP (Seattle-to-Portland), which is still high on my list of rides to complete. What was it about this place that caused people to suddenly notice my jersey? Do the endurance crazies all seek out thinner air or is it just that I had worn my light jacket on days where I also wore that particular jersey?
After descending from the watchtower, we spent a few minutes chatting with two biker tourists of a different variety. Anthony was impressed by one of the leather-clad fellow’s sidecar setup. I don’t really get the arrangement, whereby the flexibility and efficiency of the motorcycle are drastically reduced, but I will say that it looks cool. Anthony also noticed, and I was reminded, that “bikers” and “cyclists” get along quite well when both coming from the shared mindset of the long tour. Leather and lycra do, after all, share the bond of two wheels and the freedom of the open road. We are not that different.
From the watchtower viewpoint, we enjoyed a spectacular descent, first to the Xanterra-run Crater Lake Lodge and then more steeply into Mazama Campground. This campground was much larger and busier than the others we had visited and it took us nearly 20 minutes to pass through the line to pay for our hiker/biker site. With the increase in campers came an increase in facilities, though, and the general store was full of things a cyclist might want to eat and drink fireside. Before long, we were setting up camp and knocking back the customary 6-pack of Deschutes Mirror Pond Ale.
The hiker/biker area was littered with dry pieces of wood and we soon had a supply greater than any I’d ever witnessed while camping. We proceeded to burn that fire from sundown until after midnight, taking down a series of high-calorie foods. I ate a pizza and then some peanut-brittle, while Anthony ate an entire family-size bag of Cool Ranch Doritos (yikes!). As had also become customary, we had purchased some riesling (absolutely terrible, unlike others that had come before), and that kept us going as long as the fire would hold out. Eventually, though, we gave in to our fatigue and extinguished the fire, settling in to what would be the most unsettling night of the trip.
Day 7: Crater Lake to Klamath Falls
I awoke to Anthony’s voice. “Trevor, did you just get up to pee?”
“No, I’m still in my tent,” I said. “In fact, I do have to go though, actually.”
“Something just touched my head,” he said, with an unmistakable tone of alarm.
I thought to myself, “well I’m certainly not going out there now,” and then I thought a bit more.
It was 4am and much colder than previous nights since we were at elevation. My heart raced as I considered what might have brushed into Anthony in his exposed position atop his hammock roost. Then my heart stopped and so did my breathing as the sounds of the night came alive. A rustling here and a twig breaking over there. We prepared for the worst. An hour later, I was still on edge, waiting and listening for the sound of intruders in our midst. Nothing ever came.
Having discussed it at length since coming back from the trip, I have posited that it was a chipmunk or squirrel, as a bigger animal would not have been able to just graze his forehead at that height off the ground. Probably. There were certainly some of what Anthony would describe to me more recently as “residual nerves” from the bear markings in our first camp the night before. It is so easy, after all, to let one’s imagination run when in new environments. In any case, we made it through to daybreak and that’s all that counts.
Leaving Mazama Campground was almost as hard as sleeping in it. Temperatures were registering in the low 40’s and only I had the tights, gloves, and jacket that would make the 15-mile descent comfortable (a fact I had been teasing him about for the entirety of the trip). We layered most of the clothing we had brought, getting out of our respective sleeping arrangements only after the sun had begun to show itself and bring its warmth.
After the long descent, we encountered a long, flat section much like what my imagination had conjured for the likes of “big sky country” in Wyoming and Montana. Herds of cattle wandered in small numbers, completely at odds with the cramped, industrial nature of cattle ranches to the south, and towns barely worth a mention on google maps came and went without significance, much as they had done for the past century. This was some of the best riding of the whole tour, being both flat and scenic at a time when our bodies were done with hills and our minds could not conjure the thought of anything else worth seeing.
After a wonderfully easy and attractive start to the last 60 miles of riding, all hell broke loose. First, we hit highway 97, the main route to and from the burgeoning city of Bend in the north. It was strange riding on a busy road for the first time in nearly a week.
Then things got even worse. As we reached what we expected would be a final chance to gaze upon another stunning Oregon lake and maybe a falls of some sort, the lake had a nasty surprise for us. Apparently, September is gnat season and I’ve never even begun to see as many as I accidentally consumed in that six-mile stretch along Klamath Lake.
To our right were some interesting birds that we didn’t have time to look at as we tried and failed to dodge huge swarms of gnats, and to our immediate left (the should now being marginal at best) was an onslaught of big rig trucks. The choice was simple: stay to the right and be covered by gnats from head-to-toe and from within through every orifice, or wind up just another piece of the seemingly endless array of roadkill on the highway. To make matters nearly unbearable, there was no indication of a falls to match the city’s name.
The city of Klamath Falls was no joy either. We passed through street after street of low-rent shacks and broken-down old cars on the streets. Even when we reached the center of the town, which had more impressive architecture and a feeling of some importance, we were greeted by a creepy “freedom rally.”
This was not the kind of freedom rally where honorable and dignified Americans go to celebrate our country’s great constitutional merits. This place stunk of dissatisfied simpletons being led around by small-time but power-hungry politicos. Enterprising individuals simultaneously set up pony rides, food stands, and bouncy houses. Next to us, a bearded fellow sarcastically jabbed at a police officers with a slurred speech that made little sense to sober ears. The place was a carnival in the worst way.Our ride and trip ended at an unassuming Hertz rental desk at the nearby airport, where I had somehow managed to snag a reservation to drive a car one-way to Santa Barbara without paying anything in car relocation fees. The small SUV I had reserved was unavailable, on account of “no one bringing anything good here, only trying to leave.” The rental agent’s words confirmed to me that Klamath Falls was not a good place, so it was lucky that it served us only as a strategic place to end our journey and take up a different means of transit.
Along the road home, we drove by an almost glacier-less Mount Shasta and a nearly dry Shasta Lake, with all its watercraft huddled in the middle of the remaining bit of water at the bottom of what had once been a much deeper lake. After riding through the deep greens and rushing waters of coastal and central Oregon, it was alarming to again be confronted by the very serious California drought.
We made it to San Francisco shortly after dark and spent the night celebrating another good friend’s birthday. Reuben’s name had come up a few times during the course of the bike trip, mostly following when I would say out loud, “you know who would love this trip!” I’m lucky to have friends who like riding bicycles. I see this adventure not as one, individual trip to be appreciated and then filed away, but as part of something bigger.
Cycling has become a way of life for me and what I have learned from this trip will serve me well on future tours and when I am at home, too. I do my best thinking on a bike. I’ve already begun to enact changes in my life that came to me while touring Oregon and I’m sure the next bike tour is just around the corner.