Hi there everyone (who's still checking this blog — which may be no one... but hello all the same!). We know that the *illusion* of us writing these posts anywhere near the actual moment of the things-they're-about has faded by now. At this point (December 5, to be exact), we've been home in Virginia for about a week and a half, but we're still very much processing our journey — and will be for a long time. So, if you're interested in hearing about the days that followed our official Coastal Moment in Oregon, read on! We're happy you're here.
PART 1: Dunes, Shrooms, and Automobiles
It was a Wednesday when we reached the Pacific Ocean at Heceta Beach, then rode our bikes back to Florence for a celebratory meal and a heavy sleep. We stayed at a lovely little hotel/b&b called the Landmark Inn — which was perched at the top of a hill so steep that, even after biking across the ENTIRE COUNTRY, we had to dismount and push our bikes to the top. It made for a lovely view towards the future, though.
Our plan was to head down to Coos Bay, OR for a couple of days to see my uncle and my aunt — they're not married anymore, but I still think of them both that way, even if separately. My uncle, Richard, is a marine biologist specializing in larval sea urchins (he's a professor at the University of Oregon–Eugene, which has its watery departments out on the coast). And my aunt, Trish, runs the Charleston Marine Life Center. Trish had kindly offered to drive up to Florence to pick us up and—given Beau's wonky front wheel and the fact that the forecast said rain for Thursday—we gratefully accepted.
But before she arrived mid-Thursday (and since the morning sky was suspiciously cloud-free), we took the morning to explore Florence...
The city has a quaint strip of downtown along the Siuslaw River, and a cool old early-1930s bridge crossing the waterway — one of several by the engineer Conde B. McCullough which span the rivers along 101, the coastal highway. We enjoyed a normal-sized (!) breakfast and puttered about. A notable find: a bookstore called Books'n'Bears (literally my dream) where I couldn't resist one of those Out of Print tote-bags, because it featured one of my favorite childhood books, Robert McCloskey's Blueberries for Sal.
Then we headed back to the inn to meet Trish, and felt—as we always do these days—a little sad and strange loading our bikes onto the bike rack. (Repeat after me... It's okay not to ride. It's okay not to ride. It's okay...) Coos Bay is about 50 miles south of Florence, and as we zoomed down 101, we couldn't help noticing how not-quite-ideal the road is for biking. Technically, much of 101 is designated as the Oregon Coast Bike Route — you'll even see signs for it every so often. But it's a BUSY road where people drive FAST, and—as with much of Oregon—its understanding of the concept of "shoulder" is... sporadic. Sometimes there is one. Sometimes it crumbles into nothing. Sometimes the road narrows into a bridge with no extra room on either side. Spend enough time whizzing around everywhere in a car and you don't notice any of this stuff (including the inclines that, to us, now automatically put our legs and spirits into "Here we fucking go" mode). But now we're hyper-attuned to it. I hope I can, at least partially, stay this way. It seems wrong that the more time one spends in the bigger, faster, more dangerous machine, the less aware one becomes.
But — now for something completely different! Did you know: Frank Herbert based the whole idea for Dune on this exact section of the Oregon coast? The 40 miles of (now) national preserved sand dunes between Coos Bay and Florence? I didn't! But also, I did happen to know a weird selection of facts about dunes—the way we've tried to "tame" them, then subsequently figured out that they should, in fact, migrate; the way they can "sing"; the hollows inside them that can lead to people falling right through the sand and disappearing; etc—all from recently listening to a "No Such Thing As a Fish" episode that was filled with dune facts. Good timing! Trish knew a great spot to take in just how epic the dunes are, and after picking up some lunch-to-go, we pulled over for a walk through these wild mountains of sand...
There's a unique phenomenon here known as the dune lake, which happens when some of the rivers and streams making their way to the ocean meet with the walls of sand. Then you get these kind of crater lakes, circled in by pine forests on one side and dune on the other. It's still surreal to me how dramatically the land just... falls off here. Forest, forest, forest and then just this intense switch to sand and a craggy drop off into the Pacific. Also! The proximity of all this forest means that you can get DUNE BEARS. No but really. Check THIS out:
After our sandy excursion we continued on to Coos Bay and to my uncle's house, where we were soon greeted by him and his very, very small dog — a white long-haired chihuahua named Mia with the chronic shivers. But we only spent enough time there to drop our stuff, stow our bikes in the garage, and (crucially) re-caffeinate ourselves: though there hadn't been rain yet, the forecast was still threatening (for pretty much every day to come), and it seemed like a good time to take in more of the amazing local scenery before potentially being confined to the house for a couple days.
So, back to the coast! There's a line of three state parks right in a row—Sunset Bay, Shore Acres, and Cape Arago—right to the south of my uncle's house, and we spent the rest of our daylight hours taking in their beautiful, wind-whipped walkways...
Oh! I almost forgot. Before we even reached my uncle's house or the gorgeous coastal parks near it, we made an important stop at the bike shop in Coos Bay to check on Beau's front wheel. The guys there confirmed that it was pretty much shot, and, miraculously, they actually had a replacement in stock. So, by the time the bikes made it to my uncle's garage, Beau's had a new front wheel — good, since we were planning, after a few days, to ride back up north towards Beau's friends in McMinnville.
But, for the moment, we holed up in Charleston (technically not Coos Bay but right there beside it) and spent a peaceful, intermittently rainy few days with Richard and Mia.
Mostly, we rested. We blogged, we cooked, we took walks, and we checked out the campus where Richard works and the very cool marine center that Trish runs. It's closed right now, so we got our own personal masked tour — complete with little magnifying glasses you can clip to the camera lens on your phone, enabling you to take crazy enlarged photos of the creatures up against the glass... Like this:
That's: the underside of a sea star, a sea anemone's beak, and the EYEBALLS of a scallop. Whoa.
Also—and perhaps most rewardingly and enjoyably of all—Richard took us mushroom hunting! There's great mushrooming on the Oregon coast, and my uncle has become a pretty avid amateur shroom gatherer. We had a lot of fun with this rather wonderfully ridiculous—and also very informative—book from his collection. Following his lead (and Mia's, who, when let loose in the Oregon forest looks totally incongruous and like some tiny wispy white spirit creature out of a Miyazaki movie), we ventured up some wet mountain paths in search of golden chanterelles. It was... wonderful. Really, the perfect quarantine pass-time. Outdoors and isolated, but also meditative, collaborative, and weirdly addictive and exciting in a quiet way. We ended up with a huge haul—including hedgehogs as well as chanterelles, and a prize King Bolete!—and we saw all sorts of wonderful specimens, from the edible to the very-not, along the way...
The driving tempestuous rain that the forecast kept promising never quite came — or, it came on and off, Oregon-style, along with winds that kept causing "Gale Watches" and "Small Craft Warnings" to pop up in the weather reports on our phones. What we learned: at this point in the year in coastal Oregon, it probably won't actually rain steadily all day, but it will never, ever feel 1) actually dry, 2) dependably nice outside. When the day came for us to head out, we accepted another ride, this time from Richard, back up to Florence so we could start our northwards pedaling from there. It would save us a day of travel and a stretch of 101 that looked a little dicey. And, you know, just that many more hours being generally soggy and mud-spattered. Thank you, Richard! Thank you, Trish! And thank you, wet but beautiful coastal Oregon.
PART 2: The Unfinished
So! We were off again! After a few days in Charleston, we found ourselves back in Florence with loaded bikes, ready to start the trek to McMinnville. It was striking how much finishing the trip felt like losing our identities: we were cross-country cyclists; then, we were finished. But, then again, we weren't finished — we still had these two days of biking left, at least. And, also: ever since hitting the coast, each time we'd find ourselves riding in a speeding vehicle down a highway with nary a shoulder, rain drizzling down and wind coming in in bursts, we'd find ourselves wondering, "Who would want to bike in that?" Us, apparently? Even just days out of the trip, it was hard to imagine getting back in that mindset.
But, immediately once we climbed onto the bikes, it all came flooding back. It felt good to be bicyclists again.
That is. It felt good for the first ten minutes.
That's right. Almost as soon as we hit the pavement in Florence, things went a little wonky. We'd ridden a couple miles when Beau said, "Man, this road is really bumpy," and I responded, "Um... no, it isn't?" Uh oh. We pulled over in a parking lot and Beau rode around a bit. Something was up... with the freakin' brand new front wheel. It felt like it had a dip in it somehow — like the wheel itself wasn't round. So, every time it made a rotation there was a "ka-chunk" in the ride. We pushed on a few more miles but it kept feeling worse. Stress levels were already rising. Beau couldn't ride the 125-ish miles to McMinnville with a THUD every turn of the wheel — our bodies were already battered enough. Had we bought a dud wheel? Did it need trueing? (Even if it did, we'd just caught a ride 50 miles north of the nearest open bike shop.) Were we going to have to call Beau's friends Tim and Meredith (our destination in McMinnville) and beg for a ride from them? Agh, whyyyyy?
We pulled over again and I tried doing a little Googling... I found something about how, when you install a new tube/wheel/tire, it's possible for the tube to get crimped somehow and create a bump feeling when the wheel turns. So, we just treated the problem as a flat — we took the wheel off, deflated the tube, checked the inside of the tire, re-seated the tube and tire, and re-inflated it all. Fingers crossed...
It seemed better! Hard to tell on the gravelly pull-off we were in whether the issue was totally gone, but it was definitely improved. Still a little shaken by such an early mishap, but feeling more confident, we pulled back onto the highway.
We were in for a long, soggy, misty day of riding up the questionable "Oregon Coast Bike Route." All that traffic, all those disappearing shoulders? Now we were experiencing them for real. Along with some long, winding climbs right up the coastal cliffs. Thankfully, cars were overall pretty careful of us—especially on these cliff-y segments—and even though the views would have been totally stunning on a clearer day, it was still pretty damn epic.
We stopped for lunch in a cute seaside town called Yachats (still not sure how to pronounce that one). In an effort to pick the place that looked best in terms of outdoor seating and social distancing, we ended up at the semi-disappointing Yachats Brewing... It's all right, but bougie and expensive, and our server had a talent for disappearing for ages whenever we actually needed her... Mostly, though, I was just in a hard place. I could feel sadness and frustration sweeping over me — honestly, I can't even remember why right now. I deal with really difficult mood stuff when my period is approaching, which it was, and I think it was also just the weird letdown of being back on the road and just feeling like we had kind of worn out our welcome... It was cold, it was wet, it was windy, and it wasn't going to get any better. Weeks ago, I had envisioned the ride along the coast as idyllic — sun and sea breezes and gorgeous surroundings, that sort of thing. But the reality was that we were in for another slog. Not the end of the world, I realize. Just a dark cloud, passing through...
We pushed onwards. And we did manage to find a few lighter moments in the fog.
We decided that we'd get to Newport and then assess — if we felt done for the day, we'd find a place to hole up there. But if we felt okay, we'd keep pushing to Depoe Bay, which marked the halfway point to McMinnville.
So, a thing about biking on 101: Remember those cool bridges? Well, they (and other, more modern, less architecturally interesting ones) pop up fairly frequently, since there are so many rivers and streams making their way out of the mountains and down to the ocean. And even though this road is (again) officially designated as a bike route, most of the bridges eliminate the shoulder entirely, squeezing the traffic together into a single skinny funnel. Bridges and tunnels do, however, often have a button you can press as a cyclist before you head into them — it's like a crosswalk button and it will make a neon sign that says "Cyclist in tunnel" or "Cyclist on bridge" flash to the oncoming cars. I mean, cute? Well-intentioned, definitely. But also — lots of these buttons are in physical locations that would actually be dangerous to pull over and access via bike, and, mostly, cars generally couldn't give a shit. When you get to the bridges and tunnels, you pretty much have to wait for a gap in traffic, gun it forward as hard as you can, try to confidently take up the lane (or enough of it that you're asserting your right to be there as cars go around you), and just hope that you get a patient driver behind you instead of an asshole. It's... great fun!
From a non-cycling perspective, they're still pretty great bridges though...
That one above is the Yaquina Bay Bridge, and it brings you into Newport — one of the bigger cities on our route, and one where the official bike trail mercifully cuts off the main road for the duration of the ride through town. As we snaked up and down hills (some almost Ozark-y in steepness!) through the seaside suburbs, one thing was unmissable: the air in Newport just smells entirely of weed. It's like living inside a music fest. #Oregon!
We'd decided we could handle the remaining 14-ish miles to Depoe Bay — again, we'd just make it by sundown if our calculations were correct. So, with the light waning and the fog getting ever wetter, we gunned it out. Just as darkness was falling, we pulled into town, grabbed a six pack, and headed to the strikingly friendly Four Winds Motel. Beau walked several blocks back to get us some cheap Mexican food — for our final Mexican Bed Picnic of the trip! And there were showers, Bake Off, and much rejoicing.
Of course, the next day, we awoke to find that the fog had turned into 1) Actual rain, and 2) Intense wind...
But! The wind was northerly — it would actually be at our backs! Okay, we'll take it. We saddled up and headed back into the Great Moistness. Then Beau realized he'd gotten a flat toward the end of yesterday's ride, so we went back inside so he could change the tube someplace warm and dry. Then we headed out again!
The rain was on and off, but the road was so covered in dirt and pine needles that our shoes, shins, and bikes were coated within the first fifteen minutes. This was going to be another messy day.
We made it the 12 miles to Lincoln City before Beau's front tire was feeling mushy again. We pulled over. Yep. Definite another flat. Same as earlier this morning: we found a little piece of wire from a worn-down semi-truck tire. Sigh. We started the repair work. But this, friends, was destined to be a rough one. Like... we-keep-finding-new-holes-and-the-tubes-keep-refusing-to-inflate rough. We were wet, we were tired, we were royally done with this bullshit. And then—once we had finally found a tube that would behave and gotten everything put back together—we got on the bikes and pulled forward a couple of feet on the sidewalk and... PFFFFFFFFFF.
NOT a joke. IMMEDIATE NEW puncture flat—a big ole gushing gash—within 8 feet of where we'd been sitting fixing the first round of shit. Was there glass on the sidewalk? My rage knew no bounds. Poor Beau. God, what a mess.
It took us a while to cool down enough to do more than just curse. Meanwhile, the wind was battering us, so we dragged everything behind a building for some shelter. We started working on the brand new flat, and Beau called Tim. I admit, I advocated for this. We still had miles and miles to go, none of which looked like they were going to be enjoyable, and I was exhausted. Tim had offered to give us a ride if we needed one, and I was ready to accept. He said he could come grab us after he got off work around 3. We still had plenty of day to go till then, so after some calming down and some shaking off and some psyching back up, we once again got our shit sorted and headed back into the fray.
The goal at this point was just to ride for as long as we could manage it. I'll skip the moment-by-moment... The short of it is that we rode on and it was hard, wet, muddy, pretty draining riding. We said goodbye to the coast north of Lincoln City around Otis, and headed inland on Route 18 — which, we discovered as we were riding it, is—no joke—the motherfuckin' TransAmerica Bicycle Route. That's right, we'd managed to find it again. This is the road that, if you're going up to Astoria, you take westwards towards the coast. Ah, hello old friend. You moody, hilly bastard.
We wound our way up and down the long hills of the Van Duzer Forest State Scenic Corridor. In the end, we managed to make it to Grand Ronde, a town that's mostly the modest sprawl around the Spirit Mountain Casino. We pulled over at the Casino complex's big gas station, found a picnic table, bought a six pack, and called it a day. In fact, we called it a trip. We were done. If we'd still been out on the trail, this would've been one of those days where we just found a room, took the rest of the day off, then started again tomorrow. But we'd already done the trail, and so: this was it. And that was okay.
I remember Rachel, back in Boise, telling us about the REM Club — that's "Ride Every Mile", the unofficial credo of those cyclists who really don't want to get in a car. I definitely have some of that impulse in me, but when Rachel described the REM gang, Beau's response was, "What about Enjoy Every Mile?" Wise Beau. For the time being, we had reached the limits of our enjoyment, we'd already crossed the country, and we'd managed to get within 25 miles of McMinnville. So, hey, not so bad. For the next hour, we set about trying to clean enough grime off of our ridiculously dirty bikes and bags that they wouldn't turn Tim's car into a mud-pit. Then, our savior arrived. We loaded things up and headed towards McMinnville. Another chapter complete.
Day "87": Florence to Depoe Bay, OR, 64.7 miles, 3,400 feet of climbing, much wet, many cliffs, some tire issues, enchiladas in bed.
Day "88": Depoe Bay to Grand Ronde, OR, 40.4 miles, 2,050 feet of climbing, much mud, more wet, all the flats, one much appreciated homestretch rescue.
PART 3: The Win(e)d Down
And so we arrive in McMinnville! We still had a week to go till our flight (we had to make the reservations a certain amount of time out in order to buy the tickets using Beau's points) and so we had plenty of time to spend with our wonderful hosts, Meredith and Tim. (We had semi-planned to bike up to Portland before our flight and perhaps spend some time in an AirB&B with Beau's friends Ben and Jess, who were thinking of driving down from Seattle — but with COVID starting to peak again just as we hit ground, we decided it was safer to stay in one place. Oregon partially shut down almost as soon as we got to McMinnville, so we had a cozy week of quarantine with our friends, which was unquestionably the safest thing to do in the circumstances anyway.)
Tim and Meredith are awesome. Beau worked with Tim at a restaurant back in Austin, TX, where he lived before going to grad school in New York in 2015. Meredith is a midwife and a total badass who runs her own practice (and also switched to midwifery after getting a degree in documentary film-making). Tim is a wine guru who went to school for vineyard management and has worked/is working at a bunch of the vineyards around McMinnville (that's why they moved out to Oregon to begin with). McMinnville is pretty much in the heart of the Willamette Valley (that's will-AM-et, damn it!) — so it's Delicious Pinot Noir CENTRAL. Tim and Meredith both know wine backwards and forwards — and Beau knows a bunch about it, too. They can all talk about it with huge passion and knowledge and detail. As for me, I was just looking forward to drinking it.
We had one day to take advantage of before Oregon went into its partial shut-down, so we used it to visit Soter and Anne Amie Vineyards. Soter's the really good stuff. The vineyard is beautiful, the wines are amazing, and we felt really lucky to get to visit. We also spent time in the car with Tim getting many excellent firsthand tours of the local wine country. The wintery fog hardly ever lifted, so there were lots of spots where we had to take Tim's word for it on the incredible views, but the landscape was gorgeous nonetheless...
It was a wonderful, restful week of good friends, good food, and good wine. Meredith (for double-badass-points) was actually recovering from getting her wisdom teeth removed while we were there — but in a way that was a plus, because she wasn't on call for her midwife practice. (We might have seen very little of her otherwise.) We made lots of excellent soups and curries and other soft food—I need her congee recipe immediately—and we worked on the blog, cracked up watching the Mighty Boosh, and got hooked on "The Good Place." I also did a big baking project... I wanted to try to recreate the Orange Beasts we'd discovered back in Pueblo, so I decided to try combining a cruffins recipe with homemade orange marmalade. It was my most successful laminated dough in a while! And in the end I decided to do half the batch orange and half chocolate. They weren't exactly like the Beasts, but they were delicious nonetheless.
Near the end of our stay in McMinnville, the weather broke a bit and we seized the opportunity for a hike. We all drove out towards the coast and hiked the Hart's Cove Trail, an amazing walk down through primordial woods to the ocean — with an incredible view of Hart's Cove, a gorgeous waterfall-fed inlet, at the end. And then, of course, a big old climb back up towards your car. It was glorious. A gorgeous clear fall day suddenly emerging out of the wet and the fog. A stunning, towering forest, with the sounds of the surf and the sea lions echoing through the trees. We even found mushrooms! And sat on a grassy coastal hill watching through binoculars as sea lions frolicked in the waves. A perfect farewell to Oregon.
And then, just like that, it was time to fly. We had a red-eye out of Portland leaving at midnight on a Monday, and the day leading up to it was a quiet, anxious one. I was trying not to fret... The news was rife with reports of people flying for the holidays despite the danger, and my social media feeds were, as they often are, full of anger and condemnation. Yes, things are very, very bad. And neither of us was proud or happy to have to be among the folks on planes in this moment. But there was nothing to be gained by guilt-tripping or agonizing. We had to get home. So we had our bikes boxed up by a local bike shop (which had its own pang of finality to it), bought ourselves a giant duffel bag to throw everything into, and carefully weighed out all our luggage. Meredith got us some face shields, and we entered the airport as ready as we could be for 12+ hours of travel.
We waited to board. We watched more Bake Off. We dozed as best we could up in the air, wrapped in masks and shields and puffer jacket hoods and neck pillows. We laid-over at Charlotte. We went up again. And then, on Day 96, we were home.
Now, we're coming at you from Charlottesville, Virginia. Where we're going to navigate at least part of the remainder of this pandemic from my parents basement. The days ahead hold plenty of uncertainty — how do you put a life together in this moment?
But also: We Did The Thing. Thank you for doing it with us, friends. Wherever you are, we're wishing you joy. Ride on, ride well; we'll see you soon.