Bike Tour to the Coast: Part 1

Spring Break is always a thing.  Let me repeat.  Spring Break is always a thing.  It does not have to end when... whenever.  So yeah, my friends and I do a Spring Break adventure every single year.  Rain or shine.  And in Oregon, it is usually rain.  We always try to hope for the best, but plan for the worst.  In fact, we usually procrastinate detailed planning right up to the very end, thinking that if we wait and watch the weather, maybe just maybe, there will be some bastion of brilliant sun waiting for us in some corner of the state.  That usually never happens.  It's either cool and rainy on the west side of the Cascades or damn near freezing but sunny on the east side.  

Last year, my friends and I found a magical moment of actually decent weather for a Spring Break bike tour on a 170 mile loop out of John Day, Oregon called the Old West Scenic Bikeway.  It includes a stop at John Day Fossil National Monument, opportunities to see wild horses and salmon along the North Fork of the John Day River, and views of the wild Strawberry Mountain. It imprinted me with memories of stealth camping along the Middle Fork of the John Day, frying up veggies over a fire, and skinny dipping with my gal Shelley until an old local came to see what we were up to. It was my inaugural bike tour and definitely hooked me for life on this type of self-powered, group trip along wild and scenic back roads of Oregon.

Micah at the top of the pass with the Strawberry Mountains in the background.

I knew going into this year that trying to match that tour would be difficult.  I knew that not every bike tour could be as magical as my first or as scenic.  But I was sure ready to try to recreate something as magical.  

Getting a bike tour idea started can be difficult when you're dealing with multiple people and all of the conflicting schedules.  In my experience, it is usually a good idea to spread the seed of the idea several weeks in advance and see who bites.  This year we started with a group of about 10 potentially interested friends, but due to scheduling, winnowed that down to 5 people for our trip.  I have now gone on two bike tours, one with 4 people and one with 5.  I really enjoy that size of group.  It gives you enough people to have multiple and varied interactions throughout your day and your journey, but not so many that every feels estranged, like herding cats.  

Making a set route for a tour can be tricky, especially if there are different ideas about how far and long a good day's ride should be.  As you scope your potential route, there are several methods you can use.  One option would be to follow a bike tour route that is tried and true.  Travel Oregon can hook you up with a map of the 15 scenic bikeways that it currently lists as top bike tour worthy locations. RideOregonRide.com has info on those scenic bikeways and hundreds of other user contributed routes.  There is also a sweet youtube channel with 12 short videos capturing the 12 most scenic of the bikeway tours.  I suggest starting there, but also just pulling out all the maps and dreaming with yourself and with your friends.  Consider seasonal weather.  One option is also to call to a local bike shop in the area you are considering touring and asking a few questions about the seasonal weather, accommodations, camping options, topography, etc.  Consider your weakest rider and plan your mileage around that person.  Also, consider that you may run into unexpected obstacles, such as mechanical failure, flat tires, inclement weather, etc. 

Our group finally settled on the idea that we would ride to the coast through Corvallis over to Newport and up the coast along HWY 101 and attempt to meet up with some friends at a cabin in Nehalem before biking over to Portland and catching the train back to Eugene.  We calculated the mileage on this 5 day tour.  We would have to do 2 huge days at the start of our trip.  One day being almost 90 miles with hills.  We used google maps to look at satellite images of the roads to help us choose which would be the most suitable for bike touring.  Things to consider:  how much of a shoulder is there? how much traffic is there? how well paved is the road? how remote from civilization is it?  how scenic is it?  are there accommodations or camping available at an appropriate stopping point for each days milage goal?  One option to consider for accommodations is WarmShowers which is like couch surfing for bike touring.  It does require an account setup but is a nice potential option where available.  Also, sometimes when bike touring, you may consider camping in more unusual spots than you may normally consider.  Churches, firehouses, and community buildings are sometimes willing to give a small group of weary bike tourists respite.  Advance planning is usually preferred to last minute efforts, but as you imagine, the plans don't always come to fruition.  

Our group got started out after a full breakfast in the full sun of the early March spring.  

Our first morning ride.

We rode toward Corvallis and stopped only for a snack and saddle break at Country Bakery owned and operated by a seemingly Amish couple.  This stop was a dream come true.  Think cinnamon roll swirls and free coffee, plus dried fruit for the road.  We stopped for a late lunch in Corvallis, some of us opting for a pub and some opting for the local health food store.  (Sometimes the most peaceful solution is to split up for a bit.)  From here, we were given the advice from a local at the grocery store to take a less traveled route to the coast.  All such insider info should be considered and usually heeded. We traveled on making a big mileage push, finally getting way off the beaten path after stocking up with some food and beer at the Country Store in Blodgett, Oregon.  *They have a walk in beer cooler that is worth checking out.*

From here, we were on a super remote, almost untraveled stretch of road that took us toward Summit, Oregon.  We were already off of our planned route and would have to find a spot to camp for the night.  A gentleman in Blodgett told us to try out the Summit Grange, as they may allow us to camp there.  This was a golden tip.  As we approached Summit, we spotted a handmade sign at a house for free eggs.  One of our group, Lee, decided to scope out the offer.  That was a wise choice.  Not only did he score a dozen eggs, but he got the local red carpet rolled out (the nod of approval) for us to camp behind the grange.  Not only did this gal secure us approval to camp behind the grange, she drove ahead and made sure that the outhouse was stocked with toilet paper!  What lovely locals!  As we rolled through Summit, Oregon we got the best vibes.  This place had rainbow flags on the community center and a string repair shop for local musicians.  Bike tourist camping heaven.