South Beach, where we were on Monday night, was a bit odd because there was a group of “transient” people staying there who were clearly not hikers or bikers, but possibly homeless people. We’ve seen similar people trying to hitchhike along the highway and it’s likely that’s how these guys were travelling. We’re aware there’s a huge wealth gap in the USA, but we weren’t expecting it to be evident on the hiker/biker campsites in the State Parks. The cyclists kept to themselves and the transient people kept to themselves and it was all OK, although it was a different atmosphere to the other hiker/biker sites we’ve used.
On Tuesday we set off from South Beach and rode 80ish km south along Highway 101 to Jessie M. Honeyman State Park. We heard about the park from some other cyclists and they suggested it’d be a good place for a rest day as it’s next to a load of beautiful sand dune. The section between Seal Rock and Florence was the best part of the Oregon coast so far, with the road either twisting and winding across headlands or paralleling golden beaches. We spotted seals at Seal Rock and sea lions at Sea Lion Point. The highway was a lot quieter than other sections, but despite the sunny weather it was still surprisingly chilly, especially considering it is August. Chilly enough that despite wearing jersey, arm warmers, gilet and ¾ length pants we were both wished we had more clothes, but that’s to be expected when it’s only about 13˚C.
However, like all of the Oregon coast there were some terrible sections. Remember the introduction to the Oregon coast is the hideous Astoria–Megler bridge. On Tuesday we had narrow roads, bridges without any sort of provision for cyclists and a narrow tunnel where cyclists have to ride in the main carriageway of the road because there’s no shoulder. The only safety provision is a set of flashing lights to warn cars there are bikes in the tunnel. The approach to the tunnel was another narrow bridge, on which Philippa fell off. In her own words:
“We were on the approach to a tunnel on a bridge which had a very very high kerb (at least ½m height) and the road was narrow. There was traffic coming towards us and I heard a truck behind so veered towards the side of the road and my panniers hit the kerb so I bounced off into the road in front of the truck. I scrambled up pretty bloody quick I can tell you. The truck had slowed down anyway so no harm done.”
The tunnel was actually fine in the end because we rode through it during a gap in the traffic that was caused by some roadworks that were taking place a bit further back down the road.
On Thursday we rode form Jessie Honeyman State Park through Reedsport and North Bend to Sunset Bay State Park. It was not the best day on a bike. It was bitterly cold in the morning and we were wearing three layers and full fingered gloves. We’ve cycled through the New Zealand Alps, Australian autumn on the Great Dividing Range and the Canadian Rockies yet this is the coldest we’ve been on this trip. It’s August, we’re at sea level and at the same latitude as northern Spain. Crazy. After 30km and a stop in Safeway in Reedsport things warmed up, but then it was 40 pretty dull kilometres to North Bend. Dull because the highway was busy and straight through woodland with just occasional glimpses of the magnificent dunes to our right.
The approach to North Bend involved the Conde McCullough Memorial Bridge, which was built in the 1930s with just enough space for two lanes of traffic. Another blog spoke about getting a lift across this bridge because of the danger the inpatient drivers posed to cyclists. There’s no shoulder, a ½m high kerb meaning there’s no escape route, a 45m vertical climb to reach the summit of the bridge and huge amounts of traffic. There are some flashing lights cyclists can activate to warn the cars, lorries, RVs, caravans etc. about the presence of bikes but that’s where the safety provisions end. We pushed along the pavement for 1½km and even that was hardly wide enough for a bicycle with panniers. After North Bend we rode back into the cold fog, put on more layers and spent a damp evening at the Sunset Bay campsite shivering and wondering how it could be August.
It feels like a decision has been taken to market the Oregon coast to cyclists because it follows the Pacific, but whoever made that decision isn’t a cyclist. It’s possible being European (are we allowed to say that after Brexit?) we were expecting something akin to what we’d find back home, which isn’t a cycle route containing long narrow bridges with no safe alternative, tunnels or huge distances along major highways with double trailer lorries, massive campervans towing pick-up trucks, logging lorries etc. The policy seems to be “Go cycle down the coastal highway because it’s beautiful; just watch out for the traffic.” Parts of it are great, mainly the bits not along Highway 101 or when it’s foggy and less than 10˚C. To make things better serious money needs to be spent sorting out the tunnels and bridge, which I doubt will happen any time soon.
The highlights of the Washington and Oregon coastline have been the state parks. Their campsites have amazingly cheap areas set aside solely for cyclists and walkers. We heard stories of the campsites being full in Washington State (but we had no problems getting spaces), whereas the policy in Oregon is to never turn cyclists away. The parks are also pretty much guaranteed to be located in a beautiful place, plus there’s always a fire pit and we’ve been very successful in foraging for free firewood. The hiker/biker areas are really sociable and we keep meeting loads of other cyclists at the campsites. Sometimes we’ve been the only cyclists on the campsite, other times there’s been over a dozen. At Sunset Bay State Park there was a group of around twenty people who offered us some of their leftover sweetcorn, which turned into our dinner as there was also salad, salmon, fresh clams, homegrown peaches and pudding they couldn’t finish. And beer! Such generosity are the things we’ll remember when we’re back in the UK.