On the Road: Rickreall to Astoria, OR

Today I have an interview with the PR company that handles the Philadelphia Children’s Alliance. I was planning to prepare some notes prior to the call, but wanted to finish this blog post first. That was a tremendous idea as finishing this post allowed me to put many of the experiences in perspective.

Please enjoy the last three days of the ride!

August 22: Rickreall to Pacific City (73 miles)

The day didn’t start off right. Couldn’t find a great place for coffee or breakfast on my way out of town. On the bright side, I would be reaching the coast! Finally a glimpse of the Pacific. There would be many difficult miles before that reality. With a true start of 9 AM, I ride a fairly major highway for a bit before finding some country roads. This is where the headwinds find me for the remainder of the day.

 

I slowly get into the Coastal Mountain Range. The trees seem denser than what the Cascades had to offer. Traffic is fairly heavy and logging trucks do not budge when passing. I suppose the confidence in their abilities was reassuring, I just had to make sure I stayed straight and within the 18″ shoulder. The scents from freshly cut Douglas-firs and pines fill the lungs as I charge up hill. I stop for water on the side of the road and let Adair know that I am ten miles out from our predetermined lunch spot. She had moved on Lincoln City as the small “town” of Otis only had a gas station, pizza place, marijuana dispensary and diner, none of which had tables they could commit for a few hours of work. Rose Lodge which was 10 miles closer to Rickreall only had one restaurant and it did not seem appealing to her.

Nearing the first major peak of the Coastal Range, the road seemed friendlier. I would be leaving the constant traffic of Route 18 and ride a back road until Otis. Already 45 miles into the day, I receive a text from Adair that she was sitting in considerable traffic and has barely moved in the last 15 minutes. My stomach churns reading this news. Before I know it, I am at the Otis Cafe, at the intersection of Old Pacific Coast Highway and Route 18. The traffic in which the fiancé sits is just beyond the parkway, stretching in either direction as far as the eye can see. It is not moving. More bad news is headed my way, the restaurant will not seat groups unless the whole party is there. I cannot get something real to eat until Adair arrives AND a table opens up. The place is packed and I understand the reason behind such a policy, but I would have gladly started eating until the party came.

Service started slow, but eventually came around. Adair got a massive cheeseburger and I settled on country fried steak. Not a normal food choice for myself, but I know it will be a huge portion and the table next to us confirmed that it looked amazing. The server convinced me to get my potatoes served as”German Potatoes”, the house specialty, for an extra charge. Lunch arrives and we are not disappointed. The German Potatoes were the highlight of the meal, a thick layer of melted cheese and onions that spilled onto the steak and eggs, next to the delicious home baked breads. For as hungry as I was, I had a very difficult time finishing this meal. My legs needed some time to rest, so we plotted the remainder of the day and cycling trip. In that time the server convinced us to get strawberry-rhubarb pie and of course a healthy dollop of vanilla ice cream, for an extra charge. Yet again this evil genius delivered on his recommendation!

With stiff legs and a belly full of hearty indulgences, I slide into the saddle. It looks like there is about two or so miles before some considerable climbing on the Old Pacific Coast Hwy 101. If the area were not so gorgeous, maybe I would have been upset. This eight mile stretch of road was full of amazing plant life and switchbacks. After the first mile of climbing, any stomach discomfort was long gone and the cycling was getting serious. Another wonderful part of Old 101 was there are barely any cars. Two women with touring bikes did fly past at one point, shouting “hi” as thats all they were able to muster while cruising downhill.

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Old Pacific Coast Highway – 101

When I reach the top, there are no vistas to be enjoyed, just more of the same incredible thick forest, where 75% of things are covered in moss. A trick I used while climbing is to focus on the surrounding woods when exerting a significant amount of energy. This allows the brain to forget pain or discomfort, and enjoy the views traveling at a snail’s pace when spinning uphill. Very much looking towards the decent, I found that I would be unable to fire downhill. The “Old” name of the road is appropriate and as there are considerable potholes and un-patched portions of the surface. Having already destroyed one wheel, there was a feeling of self preservation that had me slow considerably. Before I know it the 101 junction is here.

The new 101 has a perfect surface and wide shoulder. There are many overlooks to enjoy the views of the Pacific Ocean, though an odd fog hangs in the sky. I stop at the first pull off with a parking lot and take it in. It is quite a feeling to have made it this far, last seeing an ocean on May 10, the day I left. Proud was the feeling. Unfinished was another feeling, which led to happiness. At this point I am not ready for this trip to be over. After a strange hippy seemingly living out of his car told me about his difficulties in finding accommodations during the eclipse after leaving a hot air balloon festival, I snapped a few photos and moved on. The weather was beginning to dampen and I still had twenty or so miles to go before camp.

 

The views remained spectacular along the coast. The wind stayed in my face coming from the north. I stop at a gas station in Pacific City to get some water and call Adair. She is just up the road at a bar working on her computer. Just as I am about to head out,I get a call from Ben, an amazing individual who I friended in Kansas. He congratulates me on my engagement and fills me in on his ride through the desert on his way to LA. I thank him for the call and rendezvous with the little lady. Already 7 PM, there is a chill to the misty air. We decide that she will head to the campsite first to stake it out.

The route out of Pacific City continues the coastal beauty with lingering fog. The next six miles to the campsite are full of ups and downs. A fairly empty RV Park is tucked into the woods, an option if the upcoming site does not work out. When I arrive at the at the Whalen Island County Park, Adair is chatting with a local. The man informs us that the campsite not only is full of mosquitoes, but that has been closed all summer, quite the opposite of what the site’s phone number indicates. Adair had called earlier in the day and spoke to a woman who pleasantly informed us the site was open with “plenty of spaces”. We can camp, but would need to park far from the camping area and I would have to leave my bike locked out of eye site. It is decided that a more comfortable option would be sought out, either the RV Park that I had passed or a motel in town. I pull my begs and wheels off and carefully pack the car.

The RV Park is not accepting additional tent sites. Starving and cold, we go to a local brewery for dinner. I call a motel in Pacific City and learn that a room is available and the rates are reasonable. We have some warm eats and cold beers then head to the motel. The room is small, but comfortable and clean. We put all heaters to the highest setting and take warm showers. While anticipating camping that evening after 70 miles of riding in cold and wet, the dry and warm conditions of the Anchorage Motel is exactly what the doctor ordered. IMG_20170822_190455

August 23: Pacific City to Seaside (67 miles)

As with any comfortable sleeping arrangement, it is difficult to leave at a good time. With only a few bags to pack, we are back in the car and grab some supplies from the the gas station across the street. I inhale two breakfast sandwiches on the way back to Whalen County Park, as to not retrace yesterday’s miles. We plan on lunch in Tillamook, which, from my understanding, is the dairy capital of the Pacific Northwest. Adair plans on taking in the sights and some hiking while I crush miles.

The morning starts a bit rough as my legs are sore from climbing in the wind the day before. By my review of the map, there is another day of 3,000 feet of total elevation to be gained. The first climb is tough, but feels great warming up the legs. The sweat from the climb chills me on the descent. I throw on a rain jacket to keep the moist air off me as well as the wind on downhills. Nearing the Whiskey Creek Fish Hatchery, a white Mustang nearly hits me head on as it unnecessarily passes a car on this two lane road. On the second to last day of this trip, this is the closest I come to dying.IMG_20170823_191323

As the road veers back towards the coast, the wind picks up. The views become more spectacular as I pass between small fishing towns. I stop in Oceanside to watch people surf and get some water prior to the next set of climbs. There was an opportunity to cut out twelve miles of riding (and elevation) by a direct inland route towards Tillamook. With less than a 100 total miles remaining of the trip, I opt to take the longer scenic route. I continue moving to keep lunch plans intact. There are signs during the ascent stating “No Thru Traffic” then “Road Closed”. I figure if local traffic can make it through, it can easily be completed by bike. A car full of young ladies honk and yell words of encouragement as I push towards the top. At a pull off on the left, a woman gets ready for a hike. I steer towards her and ask what she knows of the pending road closure. She informs me that the road had completely collapsed and has been out of use for some time, not even a measly touring bike could pass.

A bit defeated that I must backtrack considerable climbs, I turn the bike around, uninterested in the lighthouse situated at the top of the climb. Not even a minute of shooting downhill, I pass a red car with a familiar face. Adair was heading to the lighthouse at the best time possible! I flag her down and she stops. A few cars pull behind her forcing her to move forward and find a place to pull over. I then see her run down the narrow shoulder behind me. I tell her to pull the car up behind me. By the time she pulls up, I have both wheels off and all the bags. For the sake of time, miles and not needing to add an extra 1000 + feet of climbing to the day, I determine that driving to Tillamook is the same distance had I chosen the initial shortcut. Had I not had this opportunity, my day would have been shorter and my lunch would have come much sooner.

What we find in Tillamook is nothing short of snack heaven. The Blue Herring Farm has all the dips, jams and dressings you could ever want. We sample until we make our sandwich choices, then snack some more. The petting zoo provides great entertainment during the meal. Small kids feeding un-shy goats and wandering chickens are in the foreground of a picturesque mountain scene. We cannot stay for long as we must get to the Tillamook Visitor Center for cheese sampling and ice cream. This is a different part of heaven as I have some of the best ice cream of my life. While the quality was great, the cone was a standout. A waffle cone dip in a chocolate layer with ample jimmies (sprinkles) enshrined in the chocolate. My heart melted along with the ice cream that drowned my mustache. After the cones were done, we had coffee to power us through the evening. It was almost 5 PM and I still had over 40 miles remaining to Seaside.

 

Just like the morning, Adair and I continue to leapfrog each other. This time her stops are more planned as she breaks out her fancy camera to take some action shots. The next meet up point is about 25 miles into the evening at Cannon Beach. Light lessens as the sun lowers in sky and thick clouds lay in the hills to the north. The mist thickens and I don my rain jacket to keep the cool moisture hanging in the air off my chest. My tail light and headlights also make an appearance knowing I will finish in the dark. Apparently I miss the turnoff for Cannon Beach which is nine miles and a long climb short of Seaside.

 

Feeling good, I text Adair that I will meet her at Neil’s house in an hour or so. It is difficult to use the phone in such wet conditions as there is no where dry to wipe slick fingers. The moisture in the air turns to rain as I climb the 101. Now completely in the dark, the bright lights of passing cars illuminate the shoulder. I pass slugs the length of my hand. In the dark they look like sticks, but are a little too shiny to have come from a tree. At times with no cars, there are brief moments of solace which feel like snowfall at night, very peaceful and quiet. Soon I aim the front wheel downhill, riding the shoulder line to ensure any debris or slugs are seen on the brilliant white paint. I ride the brakes to keep speeds down and limit the risk of losing control. Unfortunately this lengthens the amount of time spent outside in the dark, cold rain.

Eventually I pull off at a roadside bar just short of Seaside to confirm my location. Luckily, Neil lives on the south end of the island and there are only four more turns and a few miles to my destination. Somehow these miles seem to linger around longer than expected. My shower and dry clothes would have to wait just a bit longer. I turn onto Neil’s street and spot the bright red rental car. I see my fiancé through the large bay window talking to Neil, the man I met the day I left Missoula. Neil sees me and opens his garage to pull my bike in next to his motorcycle.

Once inside I am offered a beer, a shower and the opportunity to do laundry. I take advantage of all then sit and enjoy to get to know Neil further. We are fortunate to catch him. Our fortune is his pain as Neil is donning a sling having broken his clavicle the week before. Always seeing the silver lining in any situation, he informs us that this injury is allowing him to catch up on domestic affairs, specifically summer reading. Hungry as always, I ask Neil if there are any late night food options as well as something tasty to get us going in the morning. After rattling off a few suggestions Neil retires for the evening. Instead of heading back out into the cold, damp night, Adair and I feast on snacks we had purchased the days before. Tuna wraps, prosciutto, olives and hummus fill our bellies. We celebrate the eve of the final ride day with a wee dram of whisky and go to bed.

August 24: Seaside to Astoria (24 miles)

My legs were stiff when I woke up. I am sure they were stiff all night, I was just unconscious and had no way of telling what the previous two days of climbing in headwinds had done to them. We gathered my things from the dryer and packed the bags, leaving my ride gear out. On our way to breakfast, we greet Neil as he read his morning paper. He lets us know that he will follow us out in a bit as he will also be going to his favorite breakfast spot, and only breakfast recommendation made to us, the Osprey Café.

Breakfast is amazing, though the coffee and water didn’t get filled as often as I would like. All the breakfast options looked great, but I settled on an egg dish with fried oysters. Certainly a hearty meal to last me through the 25 miles or so to finish the 4,000 mile journey. We walk to the beach to check it out. Neil informed us that Astoria does not have beaches and that Seaside is THE place to dip the front wheel. Once dressed in my kit for the day and bike packed, we head back to the beach to do just that.

 

The beach is perfect to do the ceremonial Pacific Ocean baptism. It is nice and short with a decent path through the dunes. This does not make it any easier to get my fully loaded bike through deep sand. I force the war horse passed the dunes and get “The Final Countdown” by Europe queued up. Adair films the push towards the water. A million emotions run through me. Knowing I still have a few hours of riding ahead of me, the profound feeling of finding, and now feeling, the cold waters of the norther Pacific hit me. I never second guessed my ability to complete this trip. More likely I was unsure if I would finish an ascent without my heart exploding or make it to the next town with adequate water during a heat wave, but never thought I wouldn’t make it here. As Neil corrected me the night before, this is not the end to my journey, simply the finish of a chapter. I will forever be changed from my experiences and it will direct me in the future.

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Seaside Beach & wheel dip

I say goodbye to Adair and shoot down the boardwalk towards the turn out of town. The promenade is slow, dodging vacationers in limited space. Once past the main drag, the crowds thin and I pick up speed. Off the island I find the Lewis and Clark Road which will take make up a majority the day’s distance. The route is gorgeous, a steady hill to start and the hills of farm country to follow. After passing countless blackberry bushes for the past three days, I decide today is the perfect day to pick some and enjoy. I pull off at a private bridge and begin a short feast. The bush has ample ripe berries for the picking. As I consume the ones closest to me, I reach further and further into the pricker defended vines. My gaze lowers in the bush that actually hangs almost 15 feet over the creek below. With a ladder and a few more hours, I could have eaten my body weight from a single plant.

 

Now knowing the feel of a perfectly ripe blackberry, I press on towards the finish line. The route is quiet, having it all to myself save a few trucks that pass by. The map appears to show one road, but the directions indicate some care must be taken with subtle turns. Consulting Google Maps I confirm the next turn and head onto a newly paved road with a severe climb. When I say newly paved, I mean this may not be the final coat. Loose, sticky, gravel churns under my tires, some sticking to the rubber. The bike slows considerably making it feel as though I am riding on dirt rather than a street. Once this section is completed, I realize just how much of the gravel is stuck to my tires. Enough that steering the bike feels different and a constant grinding sound fills the air with each revolution forward. I pull over, find a rock with a long flat edge and slowly scrape the surface of each tire, removing a bulk of the tar covered rocks. The fenders on the bike make this a laborious process.

The remainder of the trip is pleasant. I pick up the pace as the terrain flattens out, passing by Fort Clatsop, a Lewis and Clark encampment, where the forest fills my lungs with pine rich air. My dear old friend headwind joins the ride as I cross the Lewis and Clark River and Young’s Bay into Astoria. The grating over the drawbridge removes what small amount of gravel remains stuck to the tires. The wind is unpredictable, as it blows directly in my face with each turn, promising to be with me every step (pedal) of the way.  Making the last big turn at Smith Point, I am in the home stretch with the Astoria Riverwalk guiding me to the finish.

The Riverwalk is an interesting path comprised of wood planks and a trolley car available to pedestrians. With trolleys come trolley tracks. Any track provides a perfect place to catch a wheel and allow one to damage their bike and/or themselves. Navigating tracks and tourists, I take in the beauty of the Pacific Ocean meeting the Columbia River. On this day the water is not as tumultuous as it could have been, but does command some respect for anyone sailing. I snap a photo of a super long bridge and leisurely ride to the end of the Adventure Cycling Transamerica Trail, the Columbia River Maritime Museum. I find Adair patiently waiting, camera in hand, to record the fireworks at the finish.

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Astoria – Megler Bridge

I pull into a large open area in front of the museum. A Coast Guard Cutter and a less exciting ship are docked on the river. I lean my bike against an anchor statue and give Adair a hug. What I expected to be a profound moment, arriving at the end of a cross country trip, was not. The place was not considerably more picturesque than any of the thousands of miles I had traversed. There did not seem to be any historical significance in this part of the river in which the trail ended. I sat down to rest my tired legs and think about the no-frills finish.

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Cheerleader at the finish!

As I ponder the Columbia River Maritime Museum space that I now occupy, my mind begins to wander to the previous days, weeks and months. I realize that the finish of the trip was not going to be some spectacle in Astoria, rather an opportunity to reflect on one of the most amazing adventures in my life. Here, I am able to consider what it meant to have traveled 4,074 miles, meet countless wonderful people, ride through National and State Parks, promote an important cause, make a handful of dear friends, outrun a tropical storm, ride in a tropical storm, live outside during heatwaves, pass through grizzly country without so much as a car door to provide protection and so on. At this moment I begin to choke up. I call my parents to let them know that the trip is complete.

In my opinion, there is no more intimate way to experience your surroundings than traveling by bicycle. One is extremely vulnerable when all they have is strapped to a two wheeled, human powered machine. There is no protection from the elements nor the ability to coast along for hours (unless of course you have found the world’s longest downhill, and if that is the case, please message me with directions). People will be truly interested in what you are doing and where you are going. You will challenge yourself physically, but more so mentally. Just remember to relax, have fun and keep it loose!

The rest of my day was spent sightseeing by car and rewarding myself with another cone from Tillamook. It’s seriously amazing.

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Tillamook Visitor Center – if you were unable to tell…
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Short Sands Beach

While I have completed detailing the last days of my summer, I have not written about the entire trip. There is a huge gap in Kansas that I will documenting. People say Kansas is flat. It is not. People will say it is boring, it is not. Maybe driving is boring. Kansas provided some of the biggest changes in the summer and holds a special place in my heart.

4 thoughts on “On the Road: Rickreall to Astoria, OR

Add yours

  1. An American Homeric tale…..you have completed an “Odyssey”; in doing so you have come to the aid of the young, innocent and vulnerable. It is is wonderful that you shared it with Adair at the dawn of your life-long journey together!

    Congratulations in all respects!

    PS You are worthy of the title: “Mookie of Tillamook”!

    Liked by 1 person

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