A day at the beach.
The day before had been my rest day; I’d covered only twenty-four miles. I’d taken a mid morning nap, had a big dinner with my new cycling pal, Christophe, and had hit the hay early. The result was a renewed feeling of vigor upon awakening on this, the fourth day of my trip along the Oregon coast.
I was out of my sleeping bag by 6:00 and by 7:30, had showered, eaten breakfast and had my bike loaded and ready to go. Christophe came by, coffee cup in hand to say so long. “Where are you going today?” he asked.
“To Cape Lookout,” I said, “the state park.”
Christophe consulted his map. “I zee,” he said, running his finger along the red line that was Highway 101,” I weel meet you there, no?”
“No,” I said, then remembering my college French, corrected myself, “I mean yes. Getting a kind of late start aren’t you?” I asked.
“No,” he said, “I am usually up and going by nine.”
I looked around. It was a great morning, cloudless and warm. “Okay,” I said, “see you there.”
“So long,” I said and peddled down the road toward 101. Today would mark the halfway point of my trip. Had I really been on the road almost four days? It seemed as though my trip had just started. It’s a phenomenon I’ve noticed while bike touring. Time takes on a different nature. The hours and days meld into one another. My body and mind respond not to the arbitrary numbers of clock and calendar but to the rhythm of the road and the cycles of dark and light, rain and sun, hill and straightaway. It’s a good feeling and I think it’s why some people become such devoted bicycle tourists.
From Newhalem to Cape Lookout would be about forty-eight miles. My day’s travel would take me through the towns of Mohler, Wheeler, Rockaway Beach and the largest town I’d hit on the whole trip, Tillamook. The road on this stretch is composed of long flat stretches and easy rolling hills. There are fantastic views of the ocean and I found myself stopping often to take in the scenery and snap pictures. The weather was fine and even with all the stops I was making good time. The miles rolled away almost effortlessly beneath my wheels.
The pavement was pretty good, too. There are lots of different kinds of road surfaces and touring on a bicycle makes one a connoisseur of such things. The best, of course, is new, smooth asphalt or concrete. You can relax on this kind of road. It’s the best there is for drifting along in a kind of alpha state; looking around and enjoying the surroundings. If there’s a fog strip—a white-painted line along the edge—it’s even better. These fog lines are ideal for cycling. They’re smooth and glassy, putting up less resistance even than new pavement. In dry weather they’re the bees knees, but in the rain you want to avoid them like the plague. Add a little wet and they become snail-snot-slick. One false twitch of the handlebars can send you cart wheeling. But on a sunny day you can line up your front tire and sail along without a care in the world.
I passed beautiful homes situated on bluffs overlooking the ocean. Many were small, modest beach cottages but a few were Mc Mansions. One compound I passed projected a clearly unfriendly image. It was composed of several buildings including a main house that looked to cover about six thousand square feet. There was a scattering of smaller garages, guesthouses, and various outbuildings of indeterminate use. What was so striking about this particular spread was a twelve-foot-high chain link fence topped by razor wire enclosing it. It was the kind of place you expect to see surrounded by ATF swat teams. I sped past, keeping my eye out for snipers on the roof.
Later in the day I rolled into Tillamook, famous for its cheese. Little wonder then that the surrounding countryside is mostly dairy farms. It’s a sizeable town with the usual conglomeration of car dealerships, lumberyards, shopping malls and burger joints. I was feeling hungry and I had promised myself a guilty pleasure; if I ran across a Burger King before the turnoff to Cape Lookout, I’d drop in and get a fish sandwich.
Now I know what you’re probably thinking; why would anyone with the slightest concern for his or her health put that kind of junk in their body? I admit it; I love those greasy gut bombs, though I rarely give in to the temptation. As luck would have it, just three blocks before my turn-off there was the big bun in the sky. I pulled in and wolfed down a fish burger, fries and a Coke. Afterward, feeling a little sick to my stomach and a lot guilty, I climbed back on my bike and headed out.
The cycling route leaves 101 at Tillamook and heads west on what is called the Three Capes Scenic Route. The road there is what we call ‘chip seal’ and is composed of small pebbles embedded in asphalt. It’s rough and so not an ideal surface for a bike, putting up a lot of rolling resistance and making for a harsh, bumpy ride. The shoulder was mostly non-existent, but the light traffic made up for this shortcoming. The guidebook recommends a circuitous route around Cape Meres and the small burgs of Oceanside and Netarts, but it adds twelve miles and a damn steep hill, so I forsook the scenic route and stayed on the main road.
In a few miles, after climbing a pretty good hill, I came to the turn-off for Cape Lookout State Park. I’d seen a couple of signs along the way announcing that this stretch of road would soon be closed for repair. As I rode along I noticed that the road was becoming narrower and narrower and rougher and rougher. There were sections where the roadbed had sunk down several inches and I had to slow to a crawl to negotiate the resulting chasms. It was slow going, but I knew I was getting close. Ahead I saw an elderly woman making her careful way up the road toward me. When I got close she waved and gave me a big smile. “Only two miles to go to the park!” she shouted cheerfully.
“Far out,” I chortled back. She giggled and flipped me the Peace Sign.
In almost exactly two miles, I reached the park. I pulled up to the ranger station and checked in, again paying the special, low five-dollar hiker/biker rate. The ranger was a young guy around twenty-five and as he took my money, he glanced at my bike. “Trek Five-Twenty,” he said, “nice bike.”
“Thanks,” I said, “you a biker?”
He grinned. “You bet. I just built a bamboo bike.”
“Bamboo!?” I said, “I’ve heard of them but never seen one. How does it ride?”
“Sweet,” said the ranger, “It’s not all the way complete, but once it’s done… look out!”
He gave me a map and pointed me to the hiker/biker campsite. I pushed my bike along a wooded trail to a clearing where one tent already stood. I picked a spot and set up camp. Off to the west I could hear the crashing of surf and I headed that way on foot. In about an eighth of a mile, I came to a low bluff overlooking the Pacific. A long beach extended out of sight in both directions. A few people could be seen strolling along at the water’s edge. Great cottony-white clouds bunched close at the horizon, a shaft of late afternoon sunlight illuminated the scene.
I could have stood there all afternoon, but I was getting hungry again so I walked back to my tent. When I got there, another cycle tourer had arrived and was setting up camp near mine. I walked over to get acquainted. “Wow,” I said, “you have a surfboard!” The new arrival, a young guy looking to be in his early twenties, was riding a mountain bike and pulling a trailer with a surfboard strapped to the top. He was tall, almost six feet, slim bordering on skinny and had blonde hair that hung over his forehead. He would absently brush it to one side as he spoke.
Ewan, the French surfer, had ridden up from Los Angeles.
“Yes,” he replied, “surfing has been excellent.”
“As good as in Australia?” I asked. He had an accent I couldn’t quite identify; it sounded vaguely Aussie. “You’re from Australia, right?”
“No,” the young guy said, “France.”
“You don’t sound French.”
“I’ve been living in the UK, I guess it’s rubbed off on me.” He extended his hand, “Name’s Ewan.”
I introduced myself. “There’s another French guy riding this route,” I said, “he’s supposed to meet me here later on. Are you heading south?”
“No, north. I started in Los Angeles. I’m heading to Vancouver Island to meet up with my girlfriend.” He paused, brushed his hair aside. “Say, you don’t have a stove, do you?”
“Sure,” I said.
“My butane cartridge blew up on me a couple of days ago. I’ve been eating peanut butter and jelly ever since.”
“That’s cool,” I said, “you can borrow mine.”
Ewan smiled sheepishly, “Thanks, I got to drinking with some people I met in camp last night and I have a hell of a hangover. I could use a cup of coffee.”
I laughed, ah youth, I thought.
I boiled water and while I was having a cup of tea with Ewan, Christophe arrived. “About time.” I said, cheerfully, “how was the ride?”
Christophe arrives on "Takian," his Thai bicycle.
Christophe got off his bike and came over. He walked up to Ewan, “You must be zee ozer Frenchman,” he said, “Zee ranger said he checked you een. I am glad to meet you.”
Later that evening as we three, one Yankee and two Frenchman, stood around the campfire, another cyclist wandered over. “I’m Rory,” he said in a distinct Queens accent, “this is my last evening and I have a bunch of stuff I need to get rid of.” Both Christophe and Ewan’s eyes lit up. “I’ve got a gas canister, some cheese, bread, some canned stuff…”
“You bet,” Ewan said.
“I’ll take some,” Christophe piped in.
“No thanks,” I said, “I’m carrying too much as it is.”
While the Ewan and Christophe split up the booty, I strolled back to my tent and crawled into my sleeping bag. I wanted to get a good night’s sleep. Tomorrow would be the crux of the trip; sixty-two miles to Beverly Beach over three big climbs.
It was to be the most ambitious ride of my life. If I burned out it would put into question my ability to Bike Around The World, and as I hovered between wakefulness and sleep, I had—for just a moment—serious doubts, then, blissful oblivion.
Tomorrow: Day Five: Cape Lookout to Beverly Beach.
Cape Lookout, Cascade Head, Cape Foulweather.