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Day 6 – Reedsport to Langlois, OR

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This blue bird hung around, hoping we'd share our breakfast

This morning I woke up before Dallas’s alarm sounded.  I had actually fallen asleep and slept fairly well all night!  So I guess its not impossible to get a decent sleep in the tent, but I definitely appreciate a good bed.  Both of us were in high spirits this morning after having had some good rest, and we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast of apple, cheese, and turkey jerky before packing up the tent and getting on the road.

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This is when I discovered that the lighthouse, which we had climbed so steeply to reach the previous night, was not even halfway up the hill.  We started our morning off by finishing the ascent before rejoining with highway 101.  From there, it was about twenty miles to the next town of North Bend, and another 3 miles to get to Kaffe 101 in Coos Bay, where we remained for a good hour or two.  This place was adjoined to a Christian bookstore, and was much larger inside than it appeared from the street.  We snagged the table just on the other side of the window where our bikes awaited us and then ordered two cups of soup, a panini, a carrot cake muffin, marionberry scone, chocolate peanut butter cupcake, chocolate covered espresso beans, and two triple-shot lattes.  AND we took advantage of their WiFi.  So yeah, we were probably there for two hours.

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Heavy traffic as we cross the bridge to North Bend

Our goal for the night was a campground by Lake Floras, about 46 miles away.  The Pacific Coast Highway is much different from the country roads and forest roads we were on before.  This road sees a LOT of traffic – large, heavy, loud, fast-moving traffic.  For the most part there is a shoulder or a bike lane to ride on, but the traffic was still far too close for comfort in many spots.  In spite of this traffic (or maybe motivated by it) Dallas and I made great time after leaving the cafe…until we reached East Beaver Hill Road.  I despise any road with the word “hill” in its name.  This was the steepest climb we’ve encountered by far, and it continued for far too long (over a mile…maybe two miles).  It was so steep that I tried to stop and walk, but had more trouble pushing my bike up the hill than riding up it.

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We saw a bald eagle

We stopped again for groceries in a town called Bandon.  It was my turn to go in and buy food, and I came out with half of a roasted chicken.  I normally don’t like chicken, but it was strangely appealing to me in the market.  We sat on the ground just outside the entrance and ate the warm, delicious chicken before hopping back on our bikes for the last 17 miles or so of rolling hills.

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We still had ten miles to go when the sun set

Aside from Beaver Hill, our ride went pretty smoothly and quickly.  We had a tail wind and managed to cover 66.66 miles of rolling hills for the day.  It was, however, dark when we arrived at the campground, and once again we had to set up the tent in the dark.  Hopefully we chose a decent spot!

Day 5 – Out of the forest and onto the coast!

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Today was a long day.  I have so much trouble finding comfort in the tent, I hardly ever get a good sleep when we camp.  Last night was no exception.  We had chosen to camp about halfway between Eugene and Reedsport, and in between there were absolutely no services of any kind.  Our morning started off with a climb up to the Oxbow Summit.  We literally started going uphill about a mile into our ride, and we didn’t have any water or a way to treat or filter water.  Dallas kept a slow pace, trying to conserve energy, and for once I spent most of the day leading the way, feeling great for how little sleep I had the night before.

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Part of the forest the loggers have been logging

Four and half miles later, we reached a clearcut area of forest where loggers were working.  Shortly beyond the logging operation was an RV, and as we pulled up to it a woman stepped out to greet us.  After we asked if there would be anywhere to get water up ahead, she offered to give us some water.  We are so grateful for this, because we still hadn’t reached the top of Oxbow hill and we weren’t going to see anywhere to get water for another 40 miles.  We talked to the woman and her husband for a few minutes – they were watching after the logging equipment while the workers were off duty, and had been in that spot for about 6 weeks already.  It’s kind of sad to see them cutting down the trees, but apparently this area that is being logged was burnt in a forest fire in 1966 and is all second growth forest within the last 50 years.

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Smith River

We finally reached Oxbow Summit, and from there most of our ride was relatively flat, but we weren’t through the hills just yet.  We stopped for lunch, which consisted of an apple with almond butter, cheese, hazelnuts we gleaned from a farm a few days ago, and chocolate.  My stomach was grumbling again probably thirty minutes later.  Even though we were both starving at mile 25, we agreed to wait until mile 40 before eating the rest of our food, but at mile 38, there was a nice spot to sit off the road, in the sun, and halfway up a pretty steep hill.  We finished off our last two packets of tuna salad and the rest of our crackers, and one more baby bel of cheese each.  Halfway down the other side of this hill, about a mile after we stopped to eat, there was a little convenience store.

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If you're lucky, I'll replace this with the video Dallas took on his phone

We were still in a zone without phone service or internet, but there was an ATM here.  We tried to take out $80, but the machine returned $4.  It was filled with one dollar bills instead of twenties!  Thankfully, the lady at the store apologized for this and replaced the ones with twenties for us.  After refueling on water, sugar and caffeine, Dallas was a rocket.  I could not keep up with him for the rest of the day.  I had been feeling like my legs have gotten much stronger in the last few days, and the rest day really helped.  Now I felt deflated and wanted to give up.  Dallas stayed with me though, and we made it to the end of Smith River Road where it met up with Pacific Coast Highway 101.

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I'm sure thieves would listen to this

Turning south onto this road, we had made it to Reedsport!  We made a stop a Safeway to stock up on more food, and by this time it was dark.  Dallas had told me about a lighthouse he really liked when he was riding down the coast two years ago, and it just so happens that we were only 5 miles from that lighthouse.  Also coincidentally, we ended up getting there exactly two years to the day after Dallas had visited it himself!  The Umpqua Lighthouse is pretty awesome.  It’s also impossible to photograph so I’ll just have to describe it (but you really have to see it to appreciate how cool it is).  We had to climb a nasty hill in the dark to get to it.  It’s bright red and white beams of light point downwards to the ocean below, and rotate like a carousel, hitting the trees behind it.

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Now we are camping in the same spot that Dallas camped two years ago, and are once again the only hiker/bikers at this campsite.  There is a constant howling or whistling of some sort in the background.  The wind, maybe?  The lighthouse?  After a long day of cycling over 62 miles of hilly forest roads, I just hope I sleep better tonight!

Day 3 – Monmouth to Corvallis, OR

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Dallas and I didn’t make it very far today, in spite of our early start.  We were on the road by 8am!  Neither of us slept very well in the tent the night before.  As I was trying to fall asleep, I kept hearing what sounded like fireworks going off sporadically in the distance, with no discernible rhythm.  This sound went on for hours.  Then, I must have actually slept a little bit because I remember both of us being woken up by the sound of howling in the distance.  Maybe coyotes?  We were awoken a second time by the howling a bit later, only this time it was MUCH closer.  Like, right outside of our tent.  Dallas asked me if I had my pepper spray near me.  Terrified, we lay there hoping it would go away.  That night I dreamt that I had to use my pepper spray – on a hitchhiker.

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We were packed up and on the road before daylight really filled the sky.  We finally met back up with the scenic bikeway about 7.5 miles into the ride.  Here, there was a convenient cafe that offered breakfast sandwiches, quiche, and coffee.  I figured we would stop briefly to refuel and then be on our way to Eugene, but once settled in, we ended up staying for about 2 hours!  (Dallas’s excuse was that his coffee was still too hot to drink).  Here is where our luck seemed to have run out.  The weather forecast for the day included lots of rain and possible thunderstorms.  We were both tired, and we didnt want to end up stranded somewhere in the middle of farmland, 20 miles from the nearest cover when the storm hit.  Since we didn’t sleep well on the ground the night before, we decided to splurge on a cabin rental at the nearest KOA campground.  This was just an 8-9 mile bike ride from where we were, and we would be safe from the rain.

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Upon arriving at the KOA, we unloaded our bikes and made ourselves home in the cabin.  First order of business was showers, then laundry.  Food options at the KOA were rather limited, so we ordered a pizza.  Then we went for a walk on their “Nature Trail” – a short loop around various trees and blackberry bushes.  Back in the cabin, we will rest our legs for the remainder of the evening.  It barely sprinkled while we spent our day lounging around the campground, but Dallas assured me that just 30 miles south of us it was probably stormy and miserable.  Let’s hope so anyway.

Day 2 – Gervais to Monmouth, OR

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A lovely trike with flowers at Graham and Peggy's house - note the apple tree in the background!

This was supposed to be a rainy day, which was going to be quite miserable for riding bicycles.  I awoke to the sound of rain outside our window, but the sun hadn’t risen yet so I fell back asleep, thinking about what a wet start we were going to have.  When Dallas and I finally did wake up for real, the rain had stopped and blue skies were visible behind the dissipating clouds.  The weather forecast had gone from 80% to 0% chance of rain overnight.  Dallas and I are seriously the luckiest people ever.

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Troy's bike shop in Salem

We got back on the road about an hour earlier than we had started the day before, hopeful to make it about 60 miles.  Twenty miles and almost 2 hours later, we were in Salem.  We stopped at the bike shop owned by Troy, Graham and Peggy’s son – and we arrived just as the sky darkened and started to spit rain at us.  Troy wasn’t there, but the other employees were friendly and said we could leave our bikes inside while we went to get lunch.  By the time we had finished eating, the sky was blue again and the sun was shining.

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Rainbow!

Our next stop came just 13-14 miles later.  Exhausted from the headwind and rolling hills, we took a short detour into the town of Independence to pick up some food at the market.  Just a block before the market, we passed a cafe advertising pies and ice-cream.  This was just what we needed.  The man working there came outside and watched as we were locking our bikes together as if we were crazy.  “Nobody ever steals in Independence.  They’d get shot.  The cops here are good, and everyone knows each other. No one steals.”  Still, we weren’t going to risk losing our new bikes!  No sooner than stepping inside, the sky opened up for the third time that day and poured rain onto our bikes.  The man, who called himself Dutch, asked how he could make our perfect day any better.  He explained that the kitchen had closed two hours ago, yet their Open sign was still on and there were three people sitting at a table drinking coffee.  He then ignored all of our attempts to say we just wanted dessert while he went on listing the sandwiches and quiches and salads that he could still make for us (it seemed that the only thing out of the question was the soup, which was apparently delicious).  Once we could finally get a word in, we managed to order lattes and pie (ice-cream came with the pie at no extra charge!).  As we were finishing up our pie, Dutch came over to our table and told the story of the historical town of Independence, which is the end of the Oregon Trail.  Then, he seamlessly interluded into a discussion on natural disasters and how the whole west coast from Crescent City to Vancouver is going to be destroyed by earthquakes, volcanoes and tsunamis.  Independence is the epicenter of the fault subduction zone, but Dutch isn’t concerned.  He’s prepared.

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It was after 4pm when we finally said goodbye to Dutch and left his 2EZ Cafe.  The sun was shining again, but daylight time was limited.  Until just before Independence, we had been following the Willamette Valley Scenic Bikeway, but we decided to take a different route from here and try to cut 7 miles out of the trip.  This brings us down the opposite side of the Willamette River and through more farmland.  The scenery has been good so far, and the hills and headwinds haven’t been any worse than they were before we deviated from the bikeway.  Amongst all the farms and private property, we lucked out again today and found a small spot of state park land with a trailhead.  There was a no camping sign, and there was a bar across the entrance to the parking lot, but we were able to slide in with our bikes and find the perfect spot to pitch our tent just as the sun set.

Day 1 – Back in the Saddle Again

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Despite two days of false hopes, we were finally, definitely ready to leave on Sunday morning, which happens to be exactly two years to the day that Dallas had initially left Portland before ending up in New Orleans.  Still, it was almost noon when we finally rolled away from the house we were staying at in Portland.  My loaded bike seemed incredibly heavy, and my legs felt sensitive to even the slightest incline.  We were both out of practice after not having toured in so long, so it took a few miles to gain our balance and momentum.  That momentum was killed as we followed fallen lifesavers and other pieces of crushed candy up the steep hill to Dallas’s mom’s house in Oregon City.

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Riding the Champoeg bike path

After a brief stop in Oregon City, Dallas and I continued to Champoeg (pronounced ‘Shampooey’) State Park – the start of the Willamette Valley Scenic Bikeway, which would take us south to Eugene.  At the park, while we shared an apple with almond butter, a park ranger approached and asked if we were camping there.  We still had about two hours of daylight, so he pointed us in the direction towards the next campground, about 20 miles down the scenic bikeway.

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It seemed like a lot of people were burning things outside today, and the wind kept blowing smoke to our senses before we could see the source of all the fires.  We rode through miles of farmland rich with fall crops like apple and hazelnut trees, corn, and pumpkins.  We still had just under ten miles to go when the sun touched the horizon. 

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As we pulled over to put our lights on, a truck pulled over to ask us about our bike tour.  Back on the road, just a short distance beyond this and around a corner, the truck was pulled over again.  A guy got out as we approached and offered us his parent’s apartment behind their house for us to spend the night.  It was half as far away as the campground and included a bed and shower.  We eagerly accepted the offer, and they gave us directions to their home.

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This is MUCH more luxurious than our tent - thanks, Peggy and Graham!

Graham and Peggy were waiting for us when we pulled up to the garage, where their beautiful apartment is attached.  They showed us around and told us to eat or drink whatever we found in the fridge.  We are so grateful for such generous people who open their homes up to us, and we both hope to return the favor some day.

Distance covered today was just under 50 miles (not bad for starting at noon).

Arriving in Skagway

View from the ferry between Juneau and Skagway

View from the ferry between Juneau and Skagway

We were both so tired, Dallas and I didn’t talk to anyone on the ferry.  I was hoping to check out Haines, since the ferry was stopping there for two hours and Christy had told us it was a nice town, but when the ferry docked, I read a road sign pointing 4 miles to Haines.  With nothing of interest within walking distance during our short layover, I went back to sleep on the bench next to Dallas.  Neither of us were fully awake to appreciate the grandeur view for more than a few minutes before drifting off again, and I didn’t fully wake up until we were a few minutes from landing in Skagway, our destination for the summer.

Scott, Dillon, Kristina, Kellee and Zabeth - some of our fellow guides and housemates for the summer

Scott, Dillon, Kristina, Kellee and Zabeth – some of our fellow guides and housemates for the summer

Dustin and Scott greeted us when we stepped off the boat, and 4 other new guides who had been on the same ferry joined us a few minutes later.  We all managed to load our bags into the Sockeye Cycle Van, and Dustin drove our belongings to the house while Scott led the rest of us by foot.  It was only a few blocks to the shop, and walking felt good after lounging around on the ferry for 7 hours (three of the other guides had boarded the ferry in Bellingham, and had been on board for 4 days).

View of Smugglers Cove from Yakutania Point

View of Smugglers Cove from Yakutania Point

Although it was clear and sunny that day, the announcement of an avalanche having recently blocked the white passage to the Yukon (pretty much the only way out of Skagway by land) reminded us that it was still very much winter in Alaska.  Scott, the shop manager who had previously been a mechanic for a tour company in Italy, provided us with numerous and entertaining stories.  He had arrived three weeks earlier and told us about his first day and days leading up to now, when it seemed he was finally able to talk to some other people who were seeing Skagway for the first time.  I think we all shared his wonder in what we’ve gotten ourselves into here.

Dallas, standing at Yakutania Point on the day of our arrival in Skagway

Dallas, standing at Yakutania Point on the day of our arrival in Skagway

The owner of the company, Thom, greeted us when we arrived at our new summer home, the two stories above the Sockeye Cycle bike shop.  Then he hurried off to drive to Whitehorse, the nearest city, to buy supplies for the house and our welcome barbecue.  Because of the avalanche, he had to take an alternate route to Whitehorse, and it was uncertain if he would even make it back the next day for the barbecue.

Dallas and I will be sharing this space for the next four months with 10 other guides.

New Connections

In four months of living in Portland, the only job that I managed to get was a temporary position as a seasonal employee for the Columbia Sportswear outlet about 3 miles from where we lived.  I started working there shortly before Thanksgiving, and quickly learned that retail jobs are not for me.  After the first week or so, I was grateful for the little income it provided, but I was equally grateful that it was a temporary position.  The hours of walking around and being on my feet were not a problem, but the lack of intellectual stimulation and challenge that I normally seek was wearing on me.  I must say that I really liked my coworkers, who were mostly outdoorsy, active, and friendly people – an important element that can make or break job satisfaction.

Knowing that my job would eventually end, but not knowing when Dallas would be ready to leave Portland, I continued to search for and apply for jobs, ranging from bicycle delivery to food service to biological research jobs.  I also continued to work out, despite the dismal climate.  Instead of running or bicycling outside, I was mostly cycling to the nearby community center to go swimming.  I was receiving no positive feedback from the outside world regarding any of my job inquiries and was starting to lose hope about being in Portland.  Then, one night after my swim, as I was getting ready to leave the community center, came a sign that maybe there was something for me in Portland afterall.

A man rolled up in a wheelchair and started talking to me as I was about to leave, complimenting me on my swimming.  My reaction?  Who, me?? This guy must have me confused with someone else.  I’m a terrible swimmer.  Surely, he can’t tell me apart from any of the other women in the pool when we’re all wearing swim caps.   But he insisted that he saw me swimming laps and that I was a great swimmer.  I engaged him in conversation briefly before leaving, and he revealed that he was a cycling coach with a team in Portland that rides every Sunday.  He also leads rides for kids on Saturdays from the Boys and Girls Club in Northeast Portland.  He sounded a lot like my friend, Dick, who started the US Open Cycling Foundation.

I told Dallas about my encounter with John Benenate when I got home, and he was intrigued as well.  We agreed to meet at his house for breakfast that Saturday and join in on the kids ride to see what it was all about.  When we arrived at John’s house on Saturday, we met Cody, who was cooking breakfast, and her daughter, Jasmine.  John had a whole room of cycling gear and apparel that he encouraged us to pick from before we headed out in the freezing cold rain.

Cody, Jasmine, Dallas and I, at John's house for breakfast before the kids ride

Cody, Jasmine, Dallas and I, at John’s house for breakfast before the kids ride

Riding in the rain

Riding in the rain

At the Boys & Girls Club, we met Tim, who was a regular on both weekend rides.  Only two other kids were brave enough to show up for the 4 or 5 mile ride in the cold Portland rain.  John gave Dallas, Cody, Tim and I radios to wear so we could hear him as he directed our ride from his station wagon.  Jasmine, Blessing and Demario were outnumbered by “shepherds” as we all followed John through the city streets.  For a stretch along the river, we rode in a paceline before heading back to the Boys & Girls Club.  It was a slow, but rewarding ride, and the kids were still smiling when we made out way inside to thaw out.

This was the first ride of its kind for Dallas, and he was a natural.  We both looked forward to helping out with more rides like this, and hopefully more kids.  I had to work the next day, but Dallas joined John for the Sunday ride with his race team, Cyclisme.  They rode about 40 miles through cold temperatures and intermittent downpours.  Seeing Dallas’s refreshed face after work that evening, I could tell that these rides would provide a spark of energy for us throughout the depressing winter.

Dallas rides with the racing team

My schedule at Columbia seemed to exactly mirror Dallas’s schedule, in that I had to work during all the times that Dallas did not.  We never really got a day off together, and I never got to ride with John’s team, aside from a Saturday women’s ride that he put together specifically taking my schedule into consideration.  I was relieved to hear that my last day of work would be January 5th, but my outlook for earning any income was bleak.  Spending my weekdays alone in a home that houses 6 other people is a lonely feeling, and having to go to work when my best friend is actually home was wearing on my psyche.  I had spent more of my savings than I was comfortable with and started to think about going back to New Orleans to recover some of my losses.  The Super Bowl was going to be this season, right in the middle of Mardi Gras, and my pedicab license was free to renew – I just had to pick it up at the taxicab bureau.

Happy New Year, from Portland!

Happy New Year, from Portland!

I didn’t have the time or money to visit my family for the holidays, but I did get to meet Dallas’s family on his father’s side.  Unfortunately, we both spent half of our time in California crippled with food poisoning.  Shortly after returning to rainy Portland, I decided to go back to New Orleans.  I would go for six weeks, and Dallas promised to visit me for a week while I was down there.  However, a few days after I bought my ticket, Dallas, overcome with sadness, bought a one-way ticket to New Orleans.  He would meet me two weeks after I arrived, and we would stay until we figured out our next move.  I would have liked to train with John’s cycling team, but the timing wasn’t right.  I am glad to have connected with him though, and plan to ride more seriously the next time I find myself in Portland (hopefully not during the winter!).