Saturday, May 23, 2015

Smell the Roses Bicycle Tripping: the Oregon Coast Bike Route for the Rest of Us

Otter Crest. Post and photos by Austen.
It is generally not advisable for a young lad to ride alone on rough and potentially hazardous stretches of highway on a rickety, worn-out discount store bicycle. But then again, I never was one to think these things through. I have ridden these roads for several years now, thankfully with some upgraded gear, and I think I can honestly say that it's a good idea after all. The Oregon Coast Bike Route is a 380-mile-long route that stretches from Astoria to Brookings along some of the most scenic stretches of road on the continent. It follows, with some notable detours, the entire stretch of Highway 101, which in Oregon stays very close to the ocean's edge, insuring beautiful views along the way. The average bicyclist does this route in about a week, clocking in an average of 60 miles per day. Not to brag, but I once rode from Nehalem Bay to Barview in a single day. Distance? 19 miles.
Alsea Bay Bridge

Those who insist on the week-long itinerary miss 11 lighthouses, hundreds of miles of scenic beaches, thrift/junk/antique stores (carry small items with you, mail larger items home along your way), parks, museums, photo opportunities, lakes, and so much more. This is why I propose Smell the Roses bike tripping, the alternative way to experience this great coast of ours. By choosing a small section of the route instead of insisting on the whole thing, you don't feel like you have to kill yourself to meet your daily quota of miles and you can really find the relaxation that you were hoping to find all along. Be prepared to suffer some mild humiliation as you admit your itinerary to other cyclists, but feel free to console yourself in the knowledge that you won't be complaining about the pain in your legs for two weeks after you get back.

Tillamook County
As dumb as it sounds, I highly recommend using public transportation for part of your trip. Take the bus one way, then ride back at your own pace. Following is a list of the major coastal bus systems, from north to south. With the exception of Curry Public Transit, all bus systems have connections to the Willamette Valley. Please note that I have only ridden personally on a handful of these systems, so I cannot guarantee that all of these will work for your route. It's a good idea to go over your trip with the main offices before you go. From Astoria to Manzanita, use Sunset Empire Transportation District. For Manzanita to Lincoln City, use Tillamook County Transportation District. This system is especially friendly for bicyclists as there are multiple places to stow your bike on their buses. This is a beautiful section of the route, but be forewarned that roads are narrow in this county. From Lincoln City to Yachats, use Lincoln County Transit District. Please note that there is no connecting bus between Yachats and Florence. There is a 30 mile stretch of road here that goes over Cape Perpetua and Heceta Head. Roads are steep and curvy, shoulders are narrow. This is the most dangerous stretch of the whole route, but it is also one of the picturesque. From Florence to Coos Bay, use Porter Stage Lines. From North Bend (sister city of Coos Bay) to Brookings, use Curry Public Transit.

Beachside State Park
My goal is to cover the whole route eventually, but I'm in no rush. I have been piecing together sections of it over the years, beginning with previous ending places or vice versa. This post will focus on the Waldport/Yachats area as this was the destination of my latest escapade (there will, perhaps, be more posts to come as I slowly crawl towards my goal). For this area I stayed at Beachside State Park, conveniently nestled between the two small towns. When you are on a bicycle, Oregon State Parks are your best friends. All of them feature special campsites for hikers and bikers, most of which only cost around $6 per person per night. For this small fee you get a tent pad (some more secluded than others), a picnic table, garbage service, indoor bathrooms, and hot showers. Some of the nicer camps have covered areas, repair stands (complete with tools), and/or small lockers.

Rock arch at Yachats
If you decide to try Smell the Roses bike tripping, a word of warning is in order. Any bike trip, Smell the Roses or otherwise, requires long pulls up steep and hazardous terrain. Make sure you are in good physical condition and that your bicycle is in good working order. You might want to take it to a local bike shop for a check-up before you head out. It's also handy to know where these shops are along your way in case of emergencies. These shops often cater to those passing though on multi-day trips (some even have a clothes washer and dryer for you to use). Safety equipment is a must, including a white headlight, red taillight, rear view mirror, first aid kit, and a bike repair kit. You can often buy these at bike retailers, but be sure to fill in any missing components yourself. A good kit contains a multi-tool with common screwdrivers and wrenches, a miniature tire pump, pliers (for repairing chain), plastic tire removers, and a tube patch kit. The state of Oregon only requires helmets for those sixteen years old and younger, but trust me, a helmet is essential for any age. Get a good quality one. Your bike shop may also help you insure a proper fit for your helmet. You will be biking alongside, and sometimes in, heavy traffic so please do not skimp on safety gear. Trust me, you don't look like a dweeb for wearing a helmet.
Unnecessary signage at Beachside State Park

The route is open all year long, but the shoulder seasons (spring and fall) are best because of the good weather, lower winds, and lighter traffic. Most bikers choose to take the route north to south to take advantage of the prevailing north winds. Plus this means you get to ride on the west side of the road, allowing you to soak up even more amazing scenery. Following is an introduction on how to pack your bike for these trips. Gather your gear, choose your route, and I'll see you on the road!
Start with a maintained bicycle. I require a tall one, so don't be thrown off by the scale.
Repair kit, sunglasses (I like goggles), and helmet. Note the rear view mirror clipped on the helmet, I prefer these to the handlebar-mounted variety.

Get yourself a lightweight tent. A one- or two-person backpacking tent is ideal.

Next is a sleeping pad. I prefer the folding foam type to the inflatables.

Next is a sleeping bag. A mummy style is nice for its low profile and reduced weight. Trust me, they're more comfortable than they look.

A lightweight stove such as this one can be handy. The whole assembly weighs less than a pound.

When at camp, consider taking up the wholesome pastime of whittling. Especially if, like the author, you forgot your spork.

You will be passing through many small towns along your way, so feel free to buy food as you go. It can be cheaper, however, to bring your own. Consider freeze-dried food, granola, protein bars, tea, instant oatmeal, trail mix, fruit, etc. Cinnamon rolls are not generally recommended, but can be a nice treat if space allows.

Make sure your bike has a rear rack.

These bags are called panniers (PAN-ee-ays). They clip onto the rear rack. I use one for clothes and toiletries and the other for food and cooking items.

Add your tent and sleeping pad...

... and a sleeping bag.

Criss-cross bungee cords to hold the assembly in place.

A bungee net can also be helpful for extra stability.

Inflatable garden gnome optional but highly recommended. That's it! You're ready to ride.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Notes From Behind the Water: Silver Falls

South Falls
Oregon raindrops fall abundantly in the Cascade Mountains above the friendly town known as Silverton. They join one another in several small tributaries which come together as Silver Creek, a crystal-clear stream that plunges over a series of famous falls before hurrying into the Willamette Valley.

Lower South Falls
This is one of the most-visited places in Oregon, and for good reason. A nine-mile hike leads to no fewer than ten waterfalls, some of them over one hundred feet high. Connecting trails make shorter hikes easy to plan; one of the most popular is less than a mile, dropping into a canyon and passing behind (yes, behind) 177-foot South Falls. In fact, trails lead behind four of these impressive falls.

View from behind Middle North Falls
Longer hikes follow the canyon, a lush and rugged place crowded with Douglas fir and hemlock trees. Rampant Oregon underbrush crowds the trails, peppered here and there with wildflowers. The roar of falling water hints at photo opportunities around the next bend of the trail.

These trails are for hikers only (not even pets are allowed), but twenty-five miles of multi-use trails are open to bikes, pets, and horses. A horse camp offers a home base for multi-day rides.

Drake Falls
This park is definitely a destination, not a stop on your way, as it is at least half an hour from anywhere. It is worth the leisurely drive, though. The park is open year-round due to its low elevation. A broad lawn in the day-use area offers picnic tables, barbecues, and swimming. A venerable lodge, built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, is worth a visit, as is the nearby gift shop. There is a playground and even an off-leash area for the family dog.

North Falls from North Falls Viewpoint
A popular campground offers back-in RV sites that are spread out for an unusually uncrowded camping experience. There are also charming cabins (often booked well ahead), as well as tent sites during the summer months. A woodland trail leads from the campground into the day use area.

Accessibility is limited by the terrain. The campground has accessible sites, and some of the trails are paved. There is a short, easy trail from the lodge to the top of South Falls, and it is reputedly possible to push a wheelchair on the South Falls Loop, but it is a steep trail, make no mistake. North Falls is visible at a distance from the North Falls Viewpoint parking area. The paved bike paths invite wheelchairs and strollers, as well.

If You Go
Double Falls
Silver Falls State Park is located on OR 214, the rather optimistically-named Silver Creek Falls Highway. This narrow and winding country road can be accessed from the north at Silverton (take Water Street). From the south, take Highway 22 east out of Salem to 214. Watch out for wandering animals, large farm equipment, and confused tourists.

It is a good idea to print this map; on our last visit, maps were hard to come by, and they are indispensable here. The Friends of Silver Falls State Park have an excellent, informative website if you want more detailed information.

Expect to pay a day-use fee unless you are camping. The Reserve America website has camping information, but plan ahead, especially for weekend visits; this beautiful park is no secret!

Lower North Falls
To avoid crowds (and keep them out of your stunning photos), try to go midweek, especially during the busy summer season. There is no off-season here; spring offers wildflowers, winter brings high water flows, and fall presents colorful vine maple foliage. Whenever you can make the drive, the falls are waiting for you.
Behind South Falls

Winter Falls
Middle North Falls