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An Experiment in Mobility
After biking 70 miles each day to Eugene I was eager to see what might be reasonable for a day’s mileage with a larger load on more difficult terrain. I picked out a 180-mile loop from Hillsboro to Tillamook and back via the Nestucca River road. This route crosses the coast range twice and goes over Cape Lookout, offering significant elevation gains on each of the three days I spent pedaling. I didn’t camp but I did throw some extra ballast into my panniers to simulate a light camping load. This time I went solo.
Day 1: Route 6 from Hillsboro to Tillamook is a scenic route with a pretty good bicycle lane and a lot of traffic. Going head-to-head with trucks and cars is part of the bicycle experience and this route promised to provide plenty of sparring partners. I figured that leaving on a Sunday might help avoid commercial traffic and that getting on the road as early as possible would be smart. I took the first Max train to Hillsboro and by 8AM I was in the countryside West of Forest Grove, headed for the hills.
Route 6 is a beautiful ride and I would do it again but it was a bit unnerving at times. By leaving early on Sunday I had managed to avoid commercial traffic but I was right on schedule to join a long caravan of cars, vans, busses and every pickup truck towing ATVs, jet skis or boats to the coast that morning.
It’s not easy to be within a few feet of large vehicles moving at 40 or 50 mph, especially on a bike when you can’t see them coming. The rear-view mirror is the wrong place to be looking when rolling downhill at 25MPH and approaching a pothole so good listening skills come in handy at a time like this. Some vehicles, like a pickup towing a dilapidated flat-bed trailer carrying a couple of dirt bikes, are pretty noisy and you know they are coming. In this case, concentration and good biking ability will see you through the encounter. Sometimes you can’t hear vehicles until they are in the act of passing and by then they already haven’t hit you . In this case, survival was a matter of dumb luck. In both cases you get buffeted by the air-wake which can be a significant hazard of it’s own. These scenarios are played out over and over again and it can get pretty disconcerting. Several times I pulled over to collect my dumb, lucky self for a few moments.
I suppose I’ll get used to it eventually. A bicyclist is not in a lot of danger as long as he concentrates on what he is doing and stays to the
left right. Ride deliberately. G ive the drivers an easy target. Don’t make any sudden moves. Experienced bikers tell me to look to my own deportment and things will probably be fine. I believe that. The CDC’s caveat-studded statics indicate that bicycling has 2-3 times the death rate of riding in a car. In contrast, there is a guy on YouTube who concludes that the risk of injury is higher in a car than on a bike. Well, I’m a statistical analyst and I say that the probability of getting squished to death by a vehicle are way, way higher if I’m on a bike than if I’m in the the car that is running it over.
After a lunch stop at the visitor’s center I finished the traverse of the coast range and rode into Tillamook at about 1:30 PM. I was astonished that it had taken only 6 hours to go the 60 miles over the mountains. A more experienced and stronger biker would have done it more quickly and even I could have easily made it another dozen miles or so to Cape Lookout and the beach had I been camping. Instead, I biked around town for a bit, checked into the Red Apple Inn and had a long, leisurely dinner.
Day 2: Cape lookout is a world-class state park and a favorite with cyclists touring the coast. There is camping right in the dunes, hot showers and a fabulous, untamed beach. I took some time to hang out before continuing south and gaining the thousand feet rise over the cape headlands. At the summit there is a 2-mile foot trail that runs out to the point and what must be a fantastic view of the coast but in order to get there I would have to have left my bike unattended for hours in a busy parking lot
I have a lock for my bike so why not take the trail? Is it any more likely that criminally-inclined people, visiting a state park in a pickup truck equipped with four-foot bolt cutters, are going to make off with my bike instead of stealing that Audi or kidnapping a flat-bed trailer carrying two dirt bikes? It’s hard to say. I didn’t own the Audi and I did’t own the trailer but anyone with the gall to steal stuff like that isn’t going to think twice about stealing my bike. If I want to hike to see the scenic viewpoint without any fear of being robbed, I’d have to hitch-hike to the trailhead. Then I’d have to bum a ride home – possibly finding myself in a stolen Audi. The only solution was to get out of this crime-infested area and continue biking South.
Sand Lake is a tidal estuary with a lot of birds, good fishing and so much sand that the prevailing winds blow it up on the surrounding hills, creating a small desert. A portion of this sandy-land is set aside as a dune-buggy preserve for endangering small species. There is a large, well-situated campground which, according to the caretakers, is quiet and peaceful during the early part of the week and at all other times something like a cross between the Indy 500 and a frat party during rush week.
My objective this day was a B&B on Blaine Road along the Nestucca river but first I had to get to Route 101 and follow it South for a few miles. If Route 6 isn’t busy enough for you, Route 101 will make up for it. Four miles of logging trucks, narrow shoulders and fast traffic on this section were enough for me and I was happy to make it to the little town of Beaver and the Nestucca. Ten miles up the creek is the elegant Powder Creek Ranch. Take my advice. Just stay there. You can have a home-cooked dinner with Bev, Brenda and Hillary, who made me feel as if I had been reunited with old friends. You can meet Lilly, the happiest dog in Oregon and roam a beautiful piece of costal range farmland. It is also perfectly situated for the next’s days ride back to Hillsboro.
Day 3: The Nestucca River road is the best cycling route I’ve seen yet. Traffic is virtually non-existant, the road is in good shape and the scenery is superb. The road is unpaved for a couple of miles, which might account for the lack of thru-traffic but I was able to ride nearly all of that stretch. The route winds up the narrow valley, eventually topping out at 2,000 feet, offering a grand view of the Willamette Valley. The descent is steep, quick and bottoms out in Carleton.
The route from Carlton to Hillsboro runs through the peaceful back roads of farm and wine country, except for a short stretch on Route 47, which offers the cyclist a final opportunity for up-close, high-speed encounters with huge trucks and heavy farm equipment. I made it to Hillsboro by 4PM and rode the Max to Portland.
What a wonderful loop this is. Mountains, coastline, more mountains and farmland, all in close proximity and on great biking routes. I learned something new about mountains. When hiking, both ascents and descents can be difficult and the going is slow but mountains don’t bog down a biker nearly as much. The ascents are still energy and time consuming but the payoff on a bike is a swift and relatively effortless descent. Each of my three 60-mile days on this trip could have easily been longer and this augers well for biking in the Cascades. The experiment was a huge success.