Oregon Pt I: Country Roads

Running behind schedule, I decided to take the bus out of Crescent City, the last major settlement on the California coast before Oregon. I spent a matter of hours in the city and was not sorry for it. It had the scummy Humboldt vibe, without the natural splendour to take the edge off.

I headed to the city of Klamath Falls in south-central Oregon. The Kiwi family were very chirpy in the evening (my time) before the Cricket World Cup Final, and avoided eye-contact in the breakfast room the morning after.

The 260km route I’d chosen started at around 5,000 feet and descended by almost that amount on the way into Eugene, making it a relatively accommodating three-day cycle.

Beginning in the Cascade Mountains, I rode the 97 north along Upper Klamath Lake. Beautiful stuff, but an irritating power line obstructed much that was photographable.

Much of the West Coast of America is in the midst of a dry spell, with California drought stricken, and Oregon’s Cascade Range getting relatively little snow.

With a view of the mountains across the lake, the snow was only visible on the upper slopes of the highest peaks.

After the lake disappeared, I encountered a relatively long dull patch that must have lasted around 70km. It was long, flat and straight, and unremarkable scrub blocked any view that was on offer. When vehicles passed me (particularly trucks) they would remain visible on the horizon for half an hour.

Chemult is such a gloomy little town I almost mistook it for one of the other fading settlements that sit on America’s highways. This town was little more than a couple dozen buildings along the 97. Like most small towns between minor cities, it was littered with abandoned gas stations, motels and diners – the decrepit buildings far outnumbering any local enterprises. The few businesses that appear successful tend to be chains, with smaller establishments offering fewer options at a higher price. What’s more, these smaller towns show few signs of investment or development, and seem destined to go.

The next day’s cycle saw me head through a mountain pass, dropping 4,000 feet in less than an hour. Despite the relatively little physical exertion it required, I was surprised to find myself exhausted from the effort due to the mental strain of navigating the steep descent. The single lane highway that had turned off the 97 was a trucking route into Eugene, so I didn’t have a huge amount of room to manoeuvre as semi-trailers roared past, squeezing between the oncoming traffic and me.

The little village of Westfir and an odd sort of guesthouse was my destination for the evening. It was all frills and very Victorian, but I was informed that there was no innkeeper, and the other occupants were loggers. Far from the jocular hijinks I expected from men of the mountains, they returned to the guesthouse in the evening one-by-one in varying states of exhaustion, and retired to their rooms shortly afterwards.

I woke up on the morning, conscious of three things: it was raining heavily outside; I still had 60km til I was in Eugene, and it was my birthday. I celebrated with some oatmeal that I had shanghaied from my Klamath Falls continental breakfast buffet, before venturing into the rain.

What can I say, it was pretty goddamn awful. With 1,000 feet still to descend, I gritted my teeth and rolled the legs over and over. The gradients weren’t quite so ball-shrinking as the previous day’s, but it was real Oregon rain and it came down hard. The weather and trucks combined to make life even more miserable, with semis whipping up the puddles into a spray. The wetness was all over, and every now and then I would think, “Oh yeah, it’s my birthday. Probably not Top 5.”

Anyway, I got lost entering Eugene, which was worse than usual because, if I haven’t mentioned it before, it was raining quite heavily. I eventually found myself next to the University of Oregon’s football stadium, which is quite large. Their team have been doing well of late, so people are getting around them. Standard.

Eugene is a nice little city, with the palpable hipster vibes that come with being a college town. Big on organics and proud of their coffee. Same stupid rules though. Why no three shots though? What’s the obsession with even numbers from American baristas? Also, they are so slow. It’s lucky only a minority of Yanks order ‘fancy coffee’ because the country would come to a standstill.

The next leg of the trip would take me to Portland via the Willamette River Valley Scenic Bikeway: a 220km ride that winds through meadows and is really rather nice. After resting in Eugene, I started slowly with a 50km day to the historic town of Brownsville. The ride itself was along quiet country roads with the Cascades to my east.

The train line that led towards Brownsville looked oddly familiar, and the bridge running into town even more so. I had the same feeling about other parts of the village as I cycled around it.

I visited the tourist information centre to ask the location of the park where I was allowed to camp, and the trip also explained the strange familiarity of the town: Brownsville is where many of the scenes from the film Stand By Me were shot.

It rained overnight, but I remained dry in my tent. The bike got soaked though, and ever since San Francisco, my shifters had been getting more and more stiff. The rain hadn’t helped and it was becoming very hard to change gears. This becomes significant closer to Portland.

 

There was no plan for where to stay that night, assuming I would probably set up camp at one of the state parks towards the end of the scenic byway, which was more meadows and country roads.

However, after cycling into the late afternoon, I arrived in Salem, the capital of Oregon. There, I made the ill-advised decision to book a hotel room in Tigard, roughly 75km away on the outskirts of Portland. I figured I would just ride until I got there, regardless of whatever time I arrived.

To be honest, I still can’t really put a finger on why I made this decision. I can only offer two reasons: I had never toured at night before and thought it would at least be an experience. Also, I couldn’t take another fucking day of country lanes.

Setting off from Salem in the early evening, I rode into the darkness. To be honest, it was hell – not quite as bad as riding in the rain, but close to. It was bitterly cold; there was no wind, but the wind generated from moving forward stung my face through the pitch black. The lights on my bike are for being seen, not to illuminate, so unseen cracks and potholes were constantly jolting the bike and me.

I crossed the Willamette River into Newberg around midnight on Easter Sunday. I had an excellent hot chocolate from a late-night gas station, before tackling the remaining 20km to Tigard. On arriving, I looked hopelessly for my hotel with only an address, before my pride had shrunk enough to permit itself to be swallowed. I asked for directions from a different late-night gas station.

Arriving at my lodgings well after 2am, I took a much-needed shower and went to bed haunted by the quiet country lanes that had soaked up the past 15 hours and the 170km that had accompanied them.

 

The next morning my gear shifters broke, which would end up ruining my chances of cycling all the way to New York.

Comments

3
  • Berta Lovejoy

    Great scenery! You should attach a Gopro to your head and sell it to Microsoft as desktop background 2.0. Static images are over. I would pay money for that.

    Reply
  • Mum

    Well I like the notion of quiet country lanes much better than the unfortunate epithet you used in the title of this part of your blog! My goodness me!

    But I’m glad you’re having the occasional shower and good night’s rest. – this is music to your poor mother’s ears.

    Reply

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