Oregon and Washington
By the time I hit the border, I was very ready to get out of Northern California and see what Oregon had to offer. I conveniently caught up with Annika and Lucy right next to the welcome to Oregon sign, so we took some photos and headed into the state towards the town of Brookings. I reached the tourist information first, only to find that it was shut, at lunchtime on a Saturday! I started on some lunch and soon the girls joined me. From Brookings I was intending to reach Gold Beach, further up the coast, as the girls had some family contacts there who had amazingly agreed to put both them, and me, up. I just hoped they would make it that far so I could get the introduction. After stopping a little longer in town to grab some wifi, I enjoyed a wonderful afternoon cruising in the sunshine along the stunning coastline. I caught the girls again as they were taking a break, lying in the sun on a clifftop. It was a pretty straightforward cycle to Gold Beach from there in the end so we all rolled into town together, flying dangerously fast down a huge hill! We spent a great evening with our host, Emily, eating barbequed chicken and oysters, drinking a few cold beers before finally chilling out and watching Hot Fuzz!
The next day, after a very leisurely good morning I said goodbye to the girls and left them behind. They were planning on taking a very easy day but I wanted to make it a little further north, to the Cape Blanco State Park. The riding was easy and after a brief pause in Port Orford, I made it to the beautiful park campsite, where conveniently, there was nobody to collect my money. I settled in, cooked dinner and set up my tent, and was planning to enjoy the sunset and grab a shower, when who should turn up, but Lucy and Annika. They had set off late but the ride had been very straightforward, the weather just perfect and the previous camping options just a little undesirable. They decided to ride into the evening so rolled in a couple of hours after me. They quickly grabbed dinner and we enjoyed the clifftop views for the evening as the sun set behind the distant clouds. The next day was set for rain so the girls were up early to beat the forecasted start of the showers. I was considerably more leisurely and soon regretted this as the heavy mist came in and rain began to fall. I packed everything away pretty damp and set off for a couple of very wet hours cycling along the large highway into Bandon. Thankfully there was an excellent and very warm coffee and bagel shop in the town and I found the girls had also decided to stop there and were already settling in as I arrived. After an hour or so of eating, drinking and drying off it was out again into the fog and drizzle for a pretty miserable afternoon. I left the highway behind and decided to take the Seven Devils coastal route. Unfortunately, I hadn’t realised that the road turned to gravel and you had to take a detour, and that the Seven Devils were the seven peaks of the hills on the road. This meant a bit of backtracking and a considerable amount of up and down. I think the views would have superb but I couldn’t see much further than about 50 m for most of the afternoon. The one blessing of the poor weather was that it meant a wind from the south. Fine weather on the Oregon coast always means a strong northerly but for a day at least I had a tail wind. Eventually I made it through to the town of North Bend, picked up some groceries and headed out to the KOA campground where I knew the girls were waiting. It had been a very long day – well over 100 km – and I was certainly glad to dry off, get a shower and use the cooking facilities there for a good dinner.
Next up I was planning a 110 km day but the girls really didn’t fancy this so we said goodbye again and it was off into the blue skies and headwind. Progress was fairly tough, especially as the huge sand dunes associated with this part of the Oregon Coast seemed to funnel the wind. It was like cycling into a wind tunnel. I pushed on through Florence and by early evening I had fought through a few very sharp climbs to reach the town of Yachats, and shortly after, the Beachside State Park. I got set up and after the usual quick dinner I headed to the stunning beach to watch the sunset. The beach stretched miles to both the north and south and groups were having fires on the beach as the blazing sun lit up the cloud patterns on the horizon. It was just magnificent, but that old feeling of wanting someone to share it with couldn’t help but resurface. It was just so magical and I would have loved to have someone there to experience it with. After a good shower (the facilities in the state parks in Oregon are just top notch) I headed to bed with a slightly shorter day ahead. I was up at a reasonable time and headed into Newport for lunch and coffee. I found a great cafe by the beach and chilled out there for a while, writing and checking emails. The NYE district of the town down by the water was just lovely. My destination for the evening was the Devil’s Lake State Park in the heart of Lincoln City. It would be a nice change to camp in a town and I was looking forward to being able to walk to the supermarket and pick up a few more fresh items of fruit and vegetables for my dinner. Wow did I get that wrong! Lincoln City was a bit of a dive. Essentially a town stretched out along the highway for miles with no discernable centre. I set up my tent and started walking and with no grocery store within the first couple of miles, decided to give up and grab some food in a diner. The steak was ok but I made the mistake of ordering a side and was confronted with a towering plate of onion rings dripping with oil. It is typical of the US but not something I find particularly appealing to be confronted with this much food. I ate a few before returning to the campground for the night and settling into bed. It was a shame to finish the day on a bit of a low note.
I was up before seven the next day as I planned to cover about 130 km into what would almost certainly be a very strong headwind. Soon after waking I was approached by an apparently homeless lady getting out of a taxi with about eight suitcases. She asked me if this was the hike/bike (unreservable and basic section) area. I said it was but decided not to point out that she had clearly neither hiked, nor biked into the park. I then had to endure her rambling for the next hour as I packed up. I had previously been warned about homeless people staying in state parks, but up until this point, there had been no issues. It was probably an advantage of usually trying to find the more remote spots. Unfortunately it was a rather uncomfortable start to the day and confirmed my dislike of Lincoln City. The girls would have similar problems a few days later. But it was out onto the road, heading for Nehalem Bay, and I was looking forward to spending plenty of time away from the main highway. I cut out to the coast through the charming Pacific City, pausing briefly for some excellent coffee. I was soon confronted by the climb up Cape Lookout but it turned out to be nowhere near as tough as expected and the views as I plummeted down the other side were spectacular. Eventually I had to turn inland to Tillamook and then followed the highway along a series of bays. The headwind, as predicted, was just brutal. I battled through Garibaldi and Rockaway Beach before finally reaching the town of Nehalem Bay in the early evening. I grabbed a few supplies for dinner and chugged a litre of chocolate milk before covering the final few kilometres to the state park. The hike/bike section was closed which meant I could camp in the main part of the campground, right next to the excellent facilities. And as I was cycling in I came across a large herd of Elk crossing the road. It was already promising to be a great evening. After another quick camp dinner, I again headed to the beach. This one was even better. Wild waves crashing for miles onto the pefect, driftwood covered sand. Oregon was turning out to be pretty special, but unfortunately, this did heighten my feeling of being on my own. At this stage I had been on the road for over seven months and I think it was starting to tell a little. I returned to my campsite after sunset and chatted to another cyclist for a while which helped a little, before collapsing into my tent exhausted after 125 tough kilometres.
For my final day cycling in Oregon I had just 65 km to cover to Astoria at the junction of the Columbia River and the Pacific Ocean. It was pretty uneventful but I was looking forward to a night in a hostel and a rest the following day. As you cycle into Astoria you are confronted by the imposing Columbia River which is about four miles wide at this point. It is the start of a huge river system that allows cargo ships to head hundreds of kilometres inland, though they do require specialist piloting through the treacherous sandbars. It was pretty magnificent. I paused at the tourist information and learnt a little more about the town. It turned out that it was renowned for it’s beer and coffee. This all sounded very positive and my hopes were confirmed as I rolled into town to be met with a good atmosphere and a great cup of coffee at the 14th Street Coffee Shop. I also had two pieces of brownie. It would not be my last time there that weekend! I settled into my hostel, the Norblad, which turned out to be a hostel of hotel standard, before heading out for a Saturday evening beer at one of the breweries. I decided to eat there as well and soon got talking to Spencer and Ben, visiting the coast for the weekend and looking to sample some of the local beer. I joined them on a swift trip around three of the brewery bars in the town and it was fantastic to have their company. After a long tiring stretch of cycling and six pints of craft beer at around 8 – 10% I was soon fairly inebriated. They had to head on to see some family so I rolled back to the hostel and soon fell fast asleep. Thankfully I had the dorm to myself though and was able to sleep in late. Nonetheless I woke up feeling rather worse for wear! A big breakfast of bacon and eggs with some coffee from 14th Street soon set me right though and I headed out for a look around the town. It really was lovely with shops, restaurants and a museum all along the waterfront, plus there were literally thousands of sea lions! I decided to take a second day off in the town to get a few jobs done and drink more coffee. In the afternoon Annika and Lucy arrived at the hostel so it was nice to catch up with them. I spent the evening watching television in bed. Oh the joys of being normal for once
So after a couple of lovely days in Astoria, which reminded me very much of a mini San Francisco, it was time to brave the bridge to Washington. I joined the girls for a huge pancake breakfast and we then battled our way up the towering, curving road to the main span of the bridge. We were held at the top to wait for traffic to pass through a construction section and as we stood there, the rain decide to hammer down. The crosswind was brutal as I flew down the steep slope on the bridge and very unnerving. The main high section is raised up enough to allow cruise ships underneath but the majority of the four mile length of the bridge runs just above the water. It was then into Washington State with plenty of showers, rolling hills and a slight tailwind. Overall the cycling was very pleasant and I reached to town of South Bend in the early afternoon. After a stop at the tourist information and a hardware store the girls caught up and it was time to say goodbye for what would turn out to be the final time. I decided to push on for a long day to make my life easier for the next two so headed out through Raymond to Montesano and the Lake Sylvia State Park. It was very beautiful but amazingly cut off from the nearby town. There were also signs saying that there had been recent cougar sightings so it was a slightly odd evening spent on my own. After such a long time on the road, it is these remote evenings with no phone service or company that are really starting to get to me. I have grown so comfortable in my own company but that really doesn’t mean to say that I prefer it.
From Lake Sylvia it was a fairly relaxed and uneventful day along some lovely quiet roads with no traffic for minutes at a time, to the town of Shelton. I stocked up on groceries and headed north and over a hill towards the town of Union. I was met by spectacular views of the Olympic National Park and Lower Hood Canal. It was a fantastic end to the day to cruise along to the Twanoh State Park in the evening sun, and there was even another cyclist to spend the evening with. From Twanoh it was up early and into Bremerton to catch the ferry to Seattle. I would be heading about 20 miles out of the city to stay with a friends parents but wanted to be able to grab some lunch and have a brief look around. The ferry ride was free for cyclists and offered great views back to the Olympic Mountains and then it was into Seattle. Seriously, are there any US cities that aren’t insanely hilly and steep? First it was through the legendary Pike Place Market, home to the first ever Starbucks, and then it was out to the huge REI outdoor store. Thank god I have no money or space to carry anything otherwise I would have bought everything there. I grabbed lunch and then hit the bike paths to get out of town. The one problem was they kept disappearing. Or the signs would change. Or the path names. Or it would turn to gravel. What should have been a relatively straightforward afternoon turned out to be anything but. At least I was granted spectacular views of the towering Mt Rainier in the distance though!
I spent a fantastic three days and nights relaxing with my friends parents and sister in their beautiful home. I definitely made full use of the hot tub by the river, the huge reclining sofas and having a stocked fridge. I had only met them once before but I was made to feel amazingly welcome and comfortable. It was just what I needed to recharge, and I was at least able to help out with cooking Mother’s Day breakfast before I left! So after a fantastic couple of days off it was time to head for the US-Canadian border. I had about 230 km to go over two and a half days and made it 90 km up the road to the very quiet River Meadows County Park to spend the night. It had been very easy cycling and I settled in for a night completely on my own in a huge, unattended campground. It was very odd. From there it was into the lovely college town of Bellingham. I arrived in the early afternoon and enjoyed some time relaxing and drinking yet more coffee. I was being put up by a group of girls I had met when cycling with Natascha through Big Sur, so headed to their place in the late afternoon. They had been on a short trip during spring break when we met and they were now back in their lovely, big student house, and had a mattress for me in the lounge. They cooked me a great stir-fry dinner full of fresh vegetables and I treated them to ice cream in town for dessert to say thanks. It really was very generous of them to take time out of incredibly busy schedules and to make space for me. I really hope I can repay all this generosity forward at some point.
So I was left with just a short hop to the border. I grabbed a last lunch on American soil in Blaine, before crossing through the border checkpoint. It was another big milestone passed. I had cycled the West Coast of the US, and would make it to Vancouver later that afternoon. Oregon had turned out to be absolutely wonderful. The coastline was just magnificent and on the whole, the towns were markedly nicer than their counterparts in Northern California. I had really loved that stretch. Then I feel I have only just begun to scratch the surface of Washington. I enjoyed both Seattle and Bellingham but the mountains of the Cascade and Olympic Ranges were regularly lurking in the distance, dying to be explored. I really hope to be back there soon to go on even more adventures. But for the time being it was into Canada, the land of maple syrup, ice hockey and bears. And most exciting of all; my biggest mountains yet!