Eating and biking our way through the Americas .... and beyond!

Portland to Port Orford

Willamette Valley Scenic Bikeway

Monday 13th October: Portland to Salem

After our lovely weekend in Portland with Anne and Craig, we planned to cycle the Willamette Valley Scenic Bikeway to Eugene, rather than heading straight back to the Oregon Coast. After the logging trucks on the Olympic Peninsula, we were looking forward to some quiet back country roads and some wine tasting!

After a hearty breakfast (thanks Anne!), we set out from Portland following Craig’s very helpful directions and made our way to Champoeg State Park, the start of the Willamette Valley Scenic Bikeway. We reached the park by mid-morning and after having a little “second breakfast”, we set out on the scenic bikeway.

The Willamette Valley is very picturesque, with lush rolling hills, vineyards and farmland. There was some traffic, but it was generally local traffic – no logging or big commercial trucks. At times we were able to ride side by side, but we often rode single file into a seemingly never-ending headwind that greeted us around every bend. It would have been lovely with a tail wind!

We had read that the Willamette Valley Scenic Bikeway wound its way past wineries, fruit stands, coffee shops and brewpubs. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any of those on our first day. We also didn’t pass through any towns until we got to Salem.

Around 4pm we tried to find a campground for the night, but the RV Parks in the area did not accommodate traditional campers – only RVs. By the time we got to Salem, I was exhausted. With no state parks or campgrounds in the area, we booked ourselves into a cheap motel for the night (which was probably for the best given the torrential rain that followed the next two days).

Tuesday 14th – Wednesday 15th October: Rest days in Salem

It rained heavily for the next two days, so we had a couple of rest days in Salem.

Thursday 16th October: Salem to Philomath

After two forced rest days due to bad weather, we were itching to get back on the bikes. We cycled out of busy Salem and onto a somewhat hilly country road which followed the Willamette River. We came across Ankeny Winery around lunchtime and stopped for a little wine tasting. :) Ankeny make some lovely wines, especially pinot noir. We bought a bottle for the road and the manager was kind enough to transfer it into our plastic Platypus wine bladder (which we bought at REI), with an extra top up from the wine tasting bottle! We had been hoping to come across more wineries, but were informed that the Willamette Valley Scenic Bikeway only goes past Ankeny Winery. To our great disappointment, the other Willamette Valley wineries appeared to be on the other side of the valley and were too far away for a short detour. We would have loved to have some lunch at Ankeny Winery, but they only serve food (wood oven pizza!) on the weekends …we weren’t having the best of luck … :(

Around 2pm, we stopped in a little field for some lunch. A retired former school teacher and avid cyclist stopped for a chat and kindly offered to let us camp on his property, but it was a bit early in the day and we still wanted to cover more ground.

We had planned to follow the Willamette Valley Scenic Bikeway all the way to Eugene, but as:

  • the bikeway didn’t pass any more wineries;
  • the bikeway seemed to bypass most of the local towns (and coffee shops!);
  • camping was a little tricky unless you found a friendly farmer; and
  • we hadn’t seen a single fruit stand (perhaps it is better on the weekends in Summer and Spring?),

we decided to leave the Willamette Valley Scenic Bikeway and head back to the Oregon Coast.

As a cycle tourist, I think it is fantastic that Oregon has introduced the Scenic Bikeways – they are a great idea. But for our style of travel, we found the Willamette Valley Scenic Bikeway to be a bit challenging from a services point of view, in particular for camping.  We also would have preferred that it meander through more towns and past more than one winery! :)

After we decided to leave the bikeway, we bypassed Albany and headed towards Corvallis (a university town, home to Oregon State University), where we hoped to spend the night. Unfortunately there were no campgrounds in Corvallis and it soon became apparent that there was a major football match playing that night (Oregon State were playing Utah) as all of the motels and hotels in town were totally booked out. We began scouring our map for other possible options.  The next town towards the coast was Philomath, which was only 10.5kms from Corvallis and had one motel.  We called the motel and were told they were also booked out for the evening. There were some state parks located about 20kms from Philomath, so not knowing what else to do, we started cycling in that direction thinking we might finally need to wild camp. When we reached Philomath, we noticed that the motel had a “vacancy” sign out the front, so David went inside to inquire. As it turned out, the motel was fully booked; the “no” of the “no vacancy” sign just wasn’t working! :) The hotel manager suggested that camping might be allowed in the Philomath City Park and directed us to the caretaker to ask, but the caretaker said camping wasn’t allowed… By now it was getting dark and we had already cycled over 100kms; we turned our lights on and were about to set off into the gloom to the nearest state park when we met the loveliest couple out for their evening walk.  They asked about our travels and we explained the trouble that we were having finding a place to stay for the evening and they offered that we could stay in their guest room for the night! We couldn’t believe our luck and immediately accepted their very kind offer. Karla and Rick had already eaten dinner for the evening, but Karla made us dinner and we sat around the kitchen table getting acquainted and listening to the football match. We went to bed feeling very fortunate and grateful for the turn of events.

Thank you Karla and Rick for your kindness and hospitality!

Friday 17th October: Philomath to Yachats (115kms)

Rain was forecast for the afternoon, so we left Philomath early the next morning. Karla and Rick had advised that Highway 20 would probably be the best road for us to take to the coast (as opposed to Highway 34), although we were warned by a cyclist as we were starting out of town that he had been hit cycling on Highway 20 and that we should have our lights on and as much reflective gear as possible (the highway was generally fine with a decent shoulder, although there were some sections with no shoulder and these sections were a little sketchy given the weather and traffic, including logging trucks).

As soon as we left town we started to climb. I amused myself by looking out for possible wild camping sites that we could have stopped at the night before. The climbing continued for most of the morning and then the rain started – a slight drizzle at first, and then a complete downpour.  Fortunately we were close to a DQ (a local burger chain) near Toledo, so we ducked in for lunch, with the aim of optimistically waiting out the rain. But, it didn’t stop. Sitting in the warm and dry DQ, we knew we would need an incentive to keep cycling in this weather, so we found a cheap motel on in Yachats that had a verandah where we could dry our things and made a reservation. With our motel booked, we had no choice but to keep going.

The rain stopped for a few minutes, so we got back on the bikes and kept cycling from Toledo towards the coast. Thankfully it was mainly downhill from Toledo and we soon found ourselves in busy Newport. Unfortunately, the rain had returned and by this point, we were soaking wet.  If it wasn’t for our motel booking, we probably would have called it a day in Newport, but we pushed on, happy to be back on the coast (even though we couldn’t see much through the fog and rain).

The road from Newport to Yachats was rolling hills. We passed Seal Rock and stopped briefly to take some pictures.  No doubt its beautiful in good weather, but it looked a little gloomy that day. A further 8km brought us to the pretty little town of Waldport, before we finally reached our motel in Yachats, Deane’s Oceanfront Lodge. By the time we reached the lodge we were utterly drenched, but the friendly staff didn’t seem to mind. Deane’s was a lovely little place. Behind our motel room there was a verandah and picnic table overlooking the beach, where we were able to dry our clothes and cook dinner, which was perfect. We went to sleep listening to the sound of the waves and the patter of the rain.

Sat 18th October: Yachats to Honeyman State Park (Florence)

It was still raining when we woke up, so we decided to sleep in a bit and see if it would clear up. Thankfully, the weather improved somewhat (although it was still pretty foggy), so after a free breakfast of donuts we headed off towards Florence, Oregon. Most of our clothes had dried overnight, but not our shoes – thank goodness for sealskin socks!

The motel manager at Deane’s warned us against cycling Highway 101 between Yachats and Florence. She said that it would be best for us to put our bikes on a bus, as this section had very limited shoulders and was so distractingly beautiful that drivers would sometimes forget to pay attention to the road! Thankfully we didn’t follow her advice, as this was one of my favourite days of cycling along the Oregon Coast. :)

The Oregon Coast is beautiful, in particular, the section from Yachats to Florence, which includes the Cape Perpetua Scenic Area where the road hugs the steep coastline. We stopped at all of the points of interest, including Devils Churn and Hectea Lighthouse. Although there were a lot of tourists around, the drivers were courteous and gave us as much room as they could on the road.

Thankfully the rain held off for most of the day. I stopped frequently to take photos of the stunning seascapes, while David cycled on ahead. As we had started a bit late, and as I couldn’t stop taking photos(!), we only managed to cycle 50kms that day. We found a lovely campground about 5kms south of Florence at Honeyman State Park, which had a gorgeous hiker/biker camping area in a forest clearing for $5 – total bargain. Honeyman was pretty social – we met some other campers who invited us for beers at their campsite and some nice botanists who were out picking mushrooms in the forest! We shared the campsite with an older male cyclist and a broke hiker who was on his way to Coos Bay (we kept a close eye on our things after he announced that he had run out of money several days ago ….).

We were getting a bit sick of pasta for dinner, so I cooked green thai chicken curry for dinner. Not bad on the little cook stove!

Sun 19th October: Florence to Coos Bay

This was a day of sand dunes and bridges! The coastline between Florence and Coos Bay is markedly different to the scenery between Yachats and Florence and is dominated by towering sand dunes. We made a slight detour to the Oregon Dunes Overlook, part of the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, to view some of the dunes.

Just before lunch we passed over the Reedsport bridge.  After our experience with the Astoria bridge, I was a little apprehensive about what the Reedsport bridge might have in store for us, but the crossing was thankfully uneventful. We stopped in Reedsport for a leisurely lunch and then it was back on the bikes. We passed more sand dunes and eventually reached the North Bend Bridge. Although not quite as long as the Astoria Bridge (only 2.6 kms), the North Bend Bridge is a major piece of engineering. I felt my stress levels rising just looking at it.  As we drew closer to the bridge we could see signs warning of strong winds over the bridge. Great. There was a button to press to alert motorists that there were cyclists on the bridge. We pushed the button and pedaled as fast as we could to get up and over the bridge. It was incredibly windy and there was no shoulder at all. Thankfully the cars were very patient with us. I think they could tell we were going as fast as our legs would go! By the time we reached the other side, I was exhausted and my legs were shaking! I really am not fond of American bridges ….

Rain was forecast for the following day, so we booked ourselves into a cheap motel and went out for pizza and a few beers!

Mon 20th October: Coos Bay

It rained heavily on Monday, so we had another rest day in Coos Bay.

Tues 21st October: Coos Bay to Port Orford

This was a tough, but awesome day!

We cycled out of our motel in Coos Bay and started climbing almost immediately to get to North Bend via some back streets (thanks Google Maps!). From North Bend we followed the Cape Arago Highway to Charleston.  From there things got “interesting” as we turned onto “Seven Devils Road”. I posted the following on Facebook after riding the Seven Devils Road to Bandon:

We rode the tough “Seven Devils Road” from Charleston to Bandon, Oregon this morning – including approximately 440m of climbing over 17kms. I saw the sign for “Seven Devils Road” from the highway and remember thinking “thank god we’re not taking that road”, when David shouted “We turn left here”. My heart sank a little bit. I love hill climbing on my road bike, but “Seven Devils Road” sounded more than a little bit challenging. I took a deep breath and started peddling up the road.

The first hill had me huffing and puffing by the time I made it to the top. When I reached the crest I saw the words “Devil # 1″ painted on the road. Awesome. Only 6 more to go. Devil No. 2 was worse. I was in my easiest gear, with my legs churning like an egg beater. There was no shoulder and cars were trying to pass me, but I couldn’t slow down or I would fall over. When I finally made it to the top I was breathing hard and had to stop to get my breath back.

Devil No 3 was easier. As I passed the 3rd crest I read “Devil # 3. Don’t you just love this?” Um. No. Definitely not. Ok, maybe just a little bit …

Devil No 4 was also ok, then came Devil No 5. I had to will my legs to keep turning and was happy when I finally saw “devil # 5″ written on the road. Nearing what I thought must be the top of Devil No 6, I read “this is really Devil # 5″ …. Agh, whoever labeled the peaks clearly had a sense of humour!

Devils 6 & 7 passed and then the words “You Devil ” greeted me as I made it to the end of the climb. How cool.  Seven Devils Road is definitely one of my favourite rides so far on the trip! We still have another 70kms to cycle today. Although I love climbing, that’s probably enough for today.

Unfortunately there was more climbing in store for us, plus a killer headwind and rain! We passed one cycle tourer (and his dog) who had completely given up trying to cycle into the headwind and was just pushing his bike!

I was pleased to see the sign for “Misty Meadows Jam”, which gave me an excuse to get out of the wind. We had never tried huckleberries before, so we bought a jar of Wild Huckleberry Jam. The shop assistant said the jam should last us a couple of weeks. Hah! Try 3 days!!! :)

We planned to cycle to Ophir (118kms), but with the strong headwinds we called it a day at Port Orford (92kms). 10cms of rain was expected in the next 24 hours so we were debating (while standing in the rain) whether to camp or stay in another motel, when a lady (Cathy) pulled out of her driveway and asked if we needed any help. We said we were just trying to work out where to stay and she said they have a cabin that they let cyclists use in weather like this! It turns out her husband, John, cycled for 8 years around America and they like to help out cyclists when they can :) The cabin was awesome and had a little kitchen, wifi and an outdoor shower! We bought some wine and spent the evening swapping tales with Cathy and John and learning about life in Port Orford.

We spent two nights in Cathy and John’s little cottage as the torrential rain and wind made cycling impossible. We were very grateful not to have camped in such crazy weather.

Cathy and John also have a little historic cottage in Port Orford called the “Powder House”, which is bike friendly. We cycled past and it looked really cute, with a big back garden. Check it out if you need a place to stay in Port Orford.

Thank you John and Cathy. Our stay in your little cottage was a real highlight of our tour through Oregon!