Sur La Plaque!

Bicycles, beer and other self-indulgent ruminations.

Category: TransAm

Seventy-One: Fin, Part II (Cape Lookout to Astoria)

Miles: 95
Total: 4,826

Now what?

Making breakfast, another cyclist told me that the road’s closed near Netarts, but that you can get a bicycle through. It was a fog-soaked morning, full of the now-familiar coastal hills and I made decent progress to Tillamook, home of famous cheese (and ice cream!) and picked up Highway 101, where I’d be for most of the day.

Outside Tillamook I had my first negative motorist interaction. He pulled up in a clapped-out Ford Ranger and yelled, “Go home.” It could just have as easily been “Welcome to Oregon” — it was tough to hear with all the traffic and wind. Either way, I can’t complain about 4,800 miles before being hassled. I had many, many motorists wave, honk their horns or hang out the window shouting encouragements. On the whole, drivers were extremely pleasant.

To be honest, I had higher hopes for Highway 101. It was super busy, frequently chip sealed with rock the size of cantaloupe and the shoulder ranged between adequate and nonexistent. The fog made it tough to see, too, but once in a while it’d clear and you’re treated to a fantastic view.

Past Seaside, the ACA takes you off 101 and onto Lewis and Clark Road, a twisty country lane with very little traffic. I’m glad to end the trip on a road that represented most of the miles: lonely and beautiful. I rode past Fort Clatsop, where Lewis and Clark wintered in 1805, Corps of Discovery preparing to return east. Two drawbridges take you onto the Astoria’s peninsula, where I stopped for a slightly premature victory ice-cream cone before climbing my last hill (Astoria’s remarkably steep) and coasting down to the Columbia River Maritime Museum and the official end of the TransAm.

I’m staying tonight in my fanciest (and most expensive) accommodations yet, the Norblad. This 100-percent-Ikea-decorated hotel/hostel offers private rooms and bunks. I grabbed one of four spots in the male dormitory for $31. Sharing the room with me tonight is Scott, who left Yorktown a few days after me, though our paths never crossed, and Tony, who’s cycling from Washington down along the coast for a few days. A celebratory house-made bratwurst with sauerkraut and coarse mustard washed down with fresh beer from Fort George Brewery was dinner, and after washing up, Scott and I ventured out on the town for a couple of beers. I hung my tent out of the Norblad’s windows to dry.

Tomorrow, I’ll sort out how to get myself to Portland and my bike back to Pittsburgh. This trip’s over, but I’m looking forward writing a few more posts with my impressions, some transit data and brief equipment reviews. So, stay tuned if that interests you — if not, this is the time to unsubscribe. Thanks for coming along.


Seventy: The Ocean (Corvallis to Cape Lookout)

Miles: 112
Total: 4,731

I saw the Pacific today. Seventy days after leaving Yorktown I’ve pedaled coast to coast. There’s still one more day till Astoria and the end of the line, but seeing big water was special.

Up and out of Corvallis early this morning, I ran into a several community cyclists, including a public-school teacher on a recumbent. Corvallis is an easy place to ride with plenty of bike lanes and alert drivers.

The first part of today’s ride was flat and chilly. I stopped in Monmouth for coffee, and picked up bike path to Highway 22, a busy road with a wide shoulder. I left homes and businesses behind for flowers, vineyards and logging operations.

I found a great roadside fruit stand outside of the Indian Casino in Rose Lodge. The best kind of juicy, messy peaches and other produce. The lady working told me I saw Italian prunes along the roadside today, and that lots of fruit grows wild, including blackberries. They’re just coming into season, will grow absolutely anywhere and are an instant snack while on the bike. I stopped a bunch of times for a fistful or two.

Outside Neskowin, on Historic 101, I met my first tourists of the day. Three separate parties, all headed south on the ACA’s Pacific Coast Route, which runs 1,850 miles from Vancouver, B.C., to Imperial Beach, California, on the Mexican border. Everyone’s riding south because of the reliable northern wind. Neskowin beach gave me my first glimpse of the ocean, but  I didn’t quit here, venturing deeper into Tsunami Danger Zones, with one oddly placed evacuation route leading to a no-outlet street.

I stopped in Pacific City for groceries, where I spent a few minutes talking to a family from Portland about the ride. They just had a friend of a friend stay for a few days in the middle of a ride to Argentina. He’s got a ways to go.

The hills kept getting steeper and more frequent as I got closer to my destination, Cape Lookout’s campground. I’ve discovered reaching the coast and closing in on the ocean doesn’t mean flat ground. Home tonight is a $6 H/B site at the park, hot shower included. Our campground’s removed from the the rest of the park, tucked into the day-use area. I’m probably 200 meters from the ocean, but can only hear it roar through a thick blanket of fog and drizzle. It’s a special place to spend the night, that’s for sure.

Sixty-Nine: Civil War (Eugene to Corvallis)

Miles: 46
Total: 4,619

I was restless (but dry!) and out of camp before 6 a.m. No good reason why, because none of the bike shops open till 10 a.m. First stop was a good cup of coffee, where a father out on a hot-chocolate date with his daughter recommended The Glenwood for breakfast. Usually I have something slathered in peanut butter, so an avocado omelette hit the spot. It came with two side orders of crispy-yet-creamy red potato home fries, and the kitchen said they’d make more if I was still hungry.

Bike culture is strong in Eugene. There’re dedicated bike lanes (with sensors at stoplights), and I don’t stick out quite so much with 50 pounds of stuff strapped to my bike. The Center for Appropriate Transportation didn’t open till noon, so I rode to Performance Bike and picked up a $15 house-brand tire. They didn’t have any Schwalbe Marathons in stock. Chris graciously offered me the use of the shop to switch tires (I moved my remaining Marathon to the rear, and put the Forte rubber in front). I patched my tube, and discovered the nail’d left an exit would — I ended up using two patches.

Lucky to be in a big town when I needed a new tire, I’m really glad the shop didn’t open till 10 a.m., holding me hostage and letting me see more of the area. Eugene’s home to the University of Oregon — the Ducks.

I got out of Eugene late, but that’s OK, because I covered 50 of today’s miles yesterday, leaving me about 45 to Corvallis. The ride out of town was agrarian, and I passed a couple of nut farms, as well as mint-processing plants. After extraction, the steaming piles of spent mint are hauled out to the field and dumped. Very refreshing.

Corvallis is about a third of Eugene’s size at 50,000 people, but has lots of bike culture. Part of that may rest with its university, Oregon State. The sports teams, the Beavers, regularly play the Ducks in rivalry games known as the “Civil War”.

I’m staying tonight with Warmshowers hosts Jeff and Bettina. Jeff’s a great cook and we shared a three-course meal as they told me tales of their tours, most recently through Vietnam and Cambodia. He owns an MG to Bettina’s Miata. She jokes that constantly fixing it gives him something to do.

Sixty-Eight: Last Pass, First Flat and a Little Trail Magic (Prineville to Eugene)

Miles: 137
Total: 4,573

Ever wonder how many licks it takes to get to the middle of a Schwalbe Marathon? 4,937 fully loaded miles and a wire nail finally put an end to my flat-free streak. Darn.

Lots happened today! The morning started talking to WB BCers, who worried their ’87 camper-van wouldn’t fare well up Ochoco Pass. I pulled out my map and showed them the elevation profile. If I can do it on a a bike, I have faith in the ol’ Chevy V8.

Grey morning, with sprinkles. Nothing so heavy to warrant a jacket, the rain felt nice as I pedaled through Redmond and into Sisters. The town’s named for three 10,000′ mountains: North, Middle and South Sister. I had a sandwich here and drank a quart of chocolate milk in prep for my final big haul on the TransAmerica, a 15-mile climb up 5,325′ McKenzie Pass. It’s frequently closed into July, and my maps offer an alternative through Santiam. I’m glad the road’s open, because it was barely trafficked, twisty, narrow (no vehicles over 35′ allowed) and drop-dead gorgeous.

Toward the top, the road runs along lava flows, the most recent deposited only 1,500 years ago. From the summit, it’s possible to see a whole host of mountains, including Mt. Hood, a goodly ways off. Spencer flagged me down at the peak and asked whether I wanted any kale-quinoa salad. What a question! Yes, of course. He’s a cyclist and hiker, and working as a guide for seven folks doing a supported tour of Oregon. I met two Pacific Crest Trail hikers, who just about lost their minds at mention of a leafy green. The TransAm crosses the big three hiking trails: Appalachian, Continental Divide and Pacific Crest. He said he’s been the beneficiary of trail magic before, and tries to feed wanderers whenever possible. Loaded down with fruit, water and even a beer for later, I worked to get closer to sea level.

After the summit, I lost almost 4,500′ and will live in the arena of 800′ to the coast. The ride down was terrific fun with miles and miles of switchbacks through densely wooded forest. The west side of the Cascades are lush. The trees are huge and humidity’s returned to the party. The air’s thick.

I planned to call it quits in McKenzie Bridge, 80 miles in, but the sun was high, and the USFS campground $16, which got you potable water and not much else, so I rode on. I figured on pulling off on a logging road and putting my tent up, but as I got closer to town, National Forest gave way to private property, so I decided to make for one of Eugene’s city parks. Four miles from quitting time I heard a hiss after putting my water bottle back in its cage. Flat! The rear tire’d given up the ghost after probably close to 6,000 miles, nearly 5,000 with 50 pounds of stuff hanging over it. I’m lucky to be close to a big city, and will pick up a new tire tomorrow. Local Donovan told me to get sorted at the perfectly named Center for Appropriate Transportation, Eugene’s bike kitchen.

I got to the park at dark, and the host had turned in. The campground’s full, but I found a spot next to a few trees to set up. As soon as I got cleaned up and settled down, the sprinklers started, and the north side of my tent’s in the line of fire. Too tired to move everything, we’ll let this serve as a test of REI’s seam-sealing prowess.


Sixty-Seven: Sleeping with the Enemy (Dayville to Prineville)

Miles: 92
Total: 4,436

I started today with four frozen water bottles and a healthy serving of pancakes. It’s uphill out of Dayville, but the first pass was gentle, and you ride through really pretty country. I went past two John Day fossil units. This part of the country used to be rainforest, and scientists have pulled remarkable specimens out of the hill. In addition, I went through Picture Gorge, named for iron oxide paintings prehistoric peoples left on its walls.

There’s just one stop between the Dayville and Prineville, non-ville Mitchell. I had even more pancakes here. I ordered three, but the chef told me to start with two, and I’m glad. They’re the size of hubcaps. I couldn’t finish them for fear of a violent divorce on the way up Ochoco Pass.

It’s only 4,720′ at the summit (and my second-to-last pass of the trip), but a tough climb. I traded my helmet for a bandana to keep the sweat out of my eyes. There’s a campground at the top, but it burned, along with much of the forest a few weeks ago. I hear Highway 26 was closed at the end of July. There’s fresh paving where fire melted road.

From the pass, it’s downhill all the way to Prineville. Ochoco Lake has a nice, county-run campground, and $5 hiker/biker sites, but it’s about 8 miles out of town, so I kept trucking to Prineville proper, where I met Jerry W., an amateur cyclist, retired property manager and carpet-cleaning mogul. His girlfriend’s also named Jerry (Jerri?).

I’m camped at Crook County RV Park, nestled in with 40′ trailers and RVs. A tent site is $10.95 (no hiker/biker rate), and that includes showers, electric, water and wifi. I’d be more stoked about wifi, but I’m pulling in my first Sprint LTE coverage since Breckenridge, Colorado.

A family from British Columbia’s set up nearby. They’re in a camper-van, and the daughter has her own tent. It’s windy, and the EZ-UP I dinnered under blew down before bed.

Sixty-Six: Rolling on its Grave (Bates to Dayville)

Miles: 63
Total: 4,344

Oregon’s a cloudy state. Here, rumble strips are called fog lines. Between Mount Vernon and Dayville, ODOT’s kept busy repaving. They cut rumble strips into the shoulder only to be reminded that code prevents fog lines on any shoulder less than 4′ wide. So they had to go back and pave over all their hard work — a bummer, but score one for cyclists. Rumble strips stink.

I had company this morning. Two park rangers came in for maintenance work. Mostly tree-trimming — this is such a new park that the vault toilets smell more like plastic than, well, a toilet.

Chilly, I dawdled leaving camp. Outside Bates, I climbed my last triplet pass, Dixie, and descended for the rest of the day. In Prairie City I stopped for coffee and became the grateful beneficiary of two lightly burned cookies. Take what you can get.

Between Prairie City and Dayville is John Day, a fair-sized town of 2,000. The library’s open 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, and I booked a flight home for a week out. The trip’s coming to a close. I’ll see the ocean in a few days, and be in Astoria soon after.

Smoke hangs over much of Oregon, but Dayville is positively on fire. Crews are around, but because right now, National Forest is burning, they’re idle, waiting for it to edge onto private property. This inaction has locals frustrated. It’s close — smoke makes 2 p.m. look like twilight, and ash’s fluttering down.

I’m stopped tonight at Dayville Presbyterian — my first church stay since Dubois, Wyoming. Rose, the caretaker, said they’ve hosted cyclists since the ’70s. A big step up from the tent: shower, wifi, full kitchen and laundry. Rose also showed me where the pancake mix is for the morning, though I’ll need to be up and out early lest I become part of the service.

Sixty-Five: 86’d in 84 (Richland to Bates)

Miles: 97
Total: 4,281

A riding lawnmower roared into life and woke me up before my alarm today. The miracle of irrigation. Pleasant and cool this morning, I spent the first couple miles with a jacket on.

In 1984, heavy rain precipitated a landslide, damming the Powder River and burying a segment of Highway 86 — the main thoroughfare. You still see stretches of the old road from the bypass.

The Oregon Trail ran through here, and there’s a history center outside Baker City. It’s also on top of a mammoth hill, so I didn’t make the trip. I doubt any settlers would, either.

Baker City (pop. 9,828) is the terminus of section 3. The next map will take me to Eugene, and then it’s off to Astoria. Big-city libraries are nice because they keep regular hours. I spent some time here researching ways home. It’s likely I’ll buy a ticket out of Portland in the next day or two.

From Baker, the route takes you up over three 5,000′ passes, each about a 1,000′ climb, and 10 miles apart. I climbed Sumpter and Tipton today — Dixie tomorrow. The names give you a hint that southern sympathizers settled the area.

Just before cresting Sumpter Pass, I ran into two Asian tourists. They’re 15 days in and said I’m the first cyclist they’ve seen. Handshakes and photos all around. They’re on a 5,000-mile odyssey from Vancouver to NYC.

Home tonight is Bates State Park. It’s just a couple of years old, on the site of an old logging camp. It’s Friday night, and I’m the only soul here. Hiker/biker sites are $5, and that gets you electricity and potable water. Without a sink, I washed clothes inside an empty Ortlieb pannier.

Sixty-Four: Moo Echo (Council to Richland, OREGON)

Miles: 93
Total: 4,187

Today my tour across America turned into a tour across Oregon. I crossed the Snake River 50 miles in and nabbed my tenth — and final — state. I’m also in the Pacific Time Zone for good.

Packing up this morning, a cow across the road mooed, then waited for the echo off the barn to return. This call and response went on for quite a while. It must have entertained her. It definitely entertained me.

More construction on 95 this morning. I was waved through the pilot-car zone and left to fend for myself, pulling over as opposing convoys passed. The road’s ground down again, but at least now they’re paving. I met three folks taking the TransAm to Missoula, where they’ll cut up and ride the Northern Tier. One guy’s wife is coming along and hauling their stuff for the first few days. I hope they enjoy the time unloaded.

In Cambridge I stopped at an espresso stand for coffee. These shacks showed up somewhere in Montana and promise drive-thru caffeine. Here I got on Highway 71, which was smooth and nearly traffic free, and took me to the top of a 4,131′ pass. The climbs aren’t as tall anymore — another sign I’m getting close to the coast. I hurtled down the other side, and into Hells Canyon, where I met two young European tourists pushing Long-Haul Truckers uphill. I can’t say I blame them: it’s much steeper on their end. They stayed on the reservoir and recommended taking a swim to cool off.

The road through Brownlee Reservoir was windy and fun (and would be even better in a fast car). The river’s dammed here by Idaho Power to create electricity. It’s pretty, and the canyon’s North America’s deepest. As its name implies, it’s also toasty, with temperatures over 100 degrees. There are lots of fruit trees and berry bushes along water’s edge. It smells like riding through a box of a Fruit Roll-Ups. I climbed out and into Oxbow for lunch before hauling myself up another 1,500′ and into Richland for the night.

I’m camped out at Eagle Valley Grange Community Park. There’s a big pavilion, with screened-in joists to keep birds from roosting as well as electricity, running water and a handful of outhouses. No shower, and while I’d heard of coin-operated facilities at the RV park, no one was in the office when I rolled in, so I investigated and found regular showers near the coin laundry. Not sure I was supposed to be there, but I rinsed off real quick.

Sixty-Three: “Famous Potatoes” (Grangeville to Council)

Miles: 108
Total: 4,094

My day peaked early. At the bottom of White Bird Hill, average speed was a heady 21 m.p.h. I finished the climb I started yesterday afternoon, then zoomed down 95, staying above 30 m.p.h. for nearly 10 miles and grazing 40 m.p.h. for significant stretches.

I stopped at the bottom for an espresso to celebrate “not splatting,” as Sara so graphically put it. The first half of my day was along the Salmon River, and I saw plenty of rafters and fishermen out. Crossing the river put me back in Mountain Time, where I’ll stay till Oregon.

I quit in Riggins for lunch and the library. My waiter must know cyclists, because he brought over a pitcher of ice water with the menu. Outside Riggins, the ACA takes you off 95 for four miles on a parallel road to Pollack. It’s always nice to leave traffic behind, even for a short stretch.

There’s a bunch of “Road Work Ahead” signs out, but the only evidence I saw was smoooooth asphalt. That — and a gentle tailwind — made the 2,000′ climb to New Meadows go easily. At the top, you ride through a scenic valley, where marginal grazeland is in the process of returning to wetland, with government incentive. I crossed the 45th parallel outside of town, and grabbed my first chocolate milk in days. A rafting guide pulled up and offered me a place to put a tent up and a hot shower. His brother-in-law is in the middle of a long tour. An incredibly generous offer, but with a shady day, smooth roads and the wind comin’ correct, I wanted more miles.

Maybe I should have accepted, because right out of town the wind switched direction, my gentle tailwind now a gentle headwind, and then becoming gusty at times. The road work signs continued, but previously smooth asphalt was ground in preparation for repaving. The yin and the yang. There’s an alternate route offered here along the Weiser River Trail, but it’s pretty loose gravel, so I stayed on road, where I spotted a dead cow roadside. Gross, sorry, but even for me, someone who sees more roadkill than’s healthy, this was noteworthy.

Home tonight is Council’s Courthouse Park. I’m set up next to a covered picnic table close to water, bathrooms and electricity. The library’s wifi is available from my tent! No shower — there might be a pool in town, but I didn’t investigate at 8 p.m.

Sixty-Two: Here be Ents (Weir Creek to Grangeville)

Miles: 98
Total: 3,986

Well, no one came to check out the flaming tree last night, and the sound of rushing water put me right out. It was a great morning of riding — again along the Lochsa River in deeply wooded forest. The river is undeveloped, largely because of the 1962 Scenic Rivers Act, which restricts bridge and dam construction.

I finished the 45-mile stretch without water at a historical ranger station 20 miles in, where I made a cup of coffee and spent an hour talking with the guide. The station’s set up as it would have been in the ’20s, complete with mule-packing station and ranger homes you can walk through. It would be a mighty lonely existence, and the station closed during winter when even mules couldn’t make the trek. Highway 12 wasn’t completed till 1962 — that’s how remote this area is.

The guide told me that there’ve been lots of fires this year, especially in Oregon. That explains all the hotshot equipment I’ve seen headed back and forth. She also said that policy is to monitor, but let fires burn unless they come close to watershed or inhabited areas. Even then, special permission is required before action’s taken.

I came across London-based EBer Kat shortly after. She’s cycled through the US before, and told me about her so-called “Florence of Arabia” scarf, which she soaks in water and uses to keep cool. Good tip.

In Lowell I emerged from the wilderness, and started following the Clearwater (the Lochsa and Selway meet in Lowell). The Clearwater was pretty, but not as nice as the preceding 90 miles.

Entering the Nez-Perce Reservation outside Kooskia, the heat really ramped up. I took a long lunch and when I started cycling again, it was 95 degrees. But it’s a dry heat, right? Right.

I climbed out of Kooskia into Grangeville, which is home tonight. It’s partway up the mountain, so tomorrow’ll start uphill. A good way to warm up. I’m camped in Lions Club Park, following very detailed instructions that place me in the SE corner, on the east or west side of the creek. This should ensure that (a) I’m out of sprinkler reach and (b) that I’m in the middle of the Frisbee-golf course. The city pool offers showers for $3.

I spent most of the evening talking with Josh, a CU graduate student studying hydrology (re: ephemeral streams). He came up for a five-day rafting trip through Hells Canyon and is staying a few days longer since his ’87 4Runner threw its timing chain. Hopefully he’ll be on the road tomorrow, assuming no bent valves.

No bear box tonight! The most menacing creature spotted was a skunk skulking through the grass.