The Rain Jacket Jig

There were patches of blue sky. And when the sun reached us next to the ocean, it lit up the rocks, glowed on the waves and warmed us with its rays. The day was full of promise.

The Oregon coast is littered with parks. Looking at the map, it is one long string of tree symbols designating continuous parks. When we reached one with an easily accessible beach, Rich declared it was time to dip our bicycle tires in the ocean. Making our way across the sand, we encountered a man with his energetic black lab, who became our spontaneous photographer. He snapped away as we danced with the waves, not realizing how quickly the tide was coming in and drenching not just our tires but our feet!

Our long string of dry weather didn't last much longer, however. I was sure we were out-cycling the rain clouds, but Rich knew better and gave orders to don the rain jackets. Just in time for a good solid rainfall. About 10 miles worth. And then it stopped. From then on we did a dance with the rain, putting on our jackets and taking them off again. Just when we thought we were clear of the rain, it began to fall again. But luck was still with us. Despite the fact that the prevailing winds are out of the Northwest, we had a marvelous South wind that pushed us all day long, and increased to quite a gale by mid-afternoon. Judging by the cyclists we saw going the other way, we had the much better deal.

We quite enjoyed the busy harbor town of Newport. It was clearly a working port, with fishing boats coming and going, and the smell of their fresh catch lingering in the air. The sea lions were noisily barking in the harbor, as they congregated near the docks. We found a wonderful breakfast place with a view of the harbor where we enjoyed a huge meal with the freshest ingredients while drying out and watching the harbor activity.

We were fortunate that with the constantly wet pavement, we had much wider shoulders and flatter terrain than yesterday. Still, whenever presented with an opportunity, we detoured onto local roads to escape the busy coastal highway. One such road took us to Cape Foulweather. Having just ridden out from under yet another spell of rain, we felt it was a most appropriate sight for the day! The views would have been spectacular in better weather, but I photographed them just the same.

Our plan for the night was to stay in Devil's Lake State Park Campground, in a yurt. With the soggy weather, we weren't too sure it was still a good idea, but decided to check them out anyway. To our surprise, they were not only spacious, furnished and well protected from the elements, but included electricity and heat! Sold, one yurt to the cycling Hoeg's. We far preferred the pretty, quiet environs of the campground to any motel room.

The rain was quite a dance partner for the day. But we'd rather do the jig than slog through an all-day rain. So we figure we're still ahead of the game.


Back in the Saddle

Progress to date: 20 days, 1002 miles

Everything feels different. For two days our bikes rested in a garage while we rejuvenated ourselves and visited relatives. By the end of that time we were itching to get back in the saddle. A good sign. But in that short span of time, so much has changed. We are calling this Part 2 of our trip, as it bears little resemblance to the first 960 miles we cycled.

This morning's weather forecast

The most glaring change is the weather. The days of endless sunshine and 90 degree heat are long behind us. The clouds have moved in and the first major rainfall in months soaked the area overnight. More showers are predicted. Add to that moving over to the coast with its own weather patterns, and cooler wetter weather is inevitable. Our mantra on leaving this morning was, “We know we're going to get wet.” And yet, we didn't! For today, anyway, our amazing luck held and we felt no more than a few drops now and then. We called that a day without rain.

The scenery is entirely new on this stretch. At 11:40 this morning, 983 miles after leaving the Glaciers, we made it To the Sea! Cycling the coastal highway, the wind and the waves are now our constant companions. Last night the stormy weather really churned up the sea, and all day long huge waves pounded the shore.

Fog joined with the gray skies to tone down the views. And the crashing waves produced thick root beer foam which rolled over the rocks. Despite the monochromatic hues, the ocean was impressive and a commanding presence.

Our first view of the sea, just north of Florence

Heceta Head Lighthouse barely visible from the viewpoint

Our picnic spot

Even our menu choices have been transformed. A few days ago, zapped by the heat, we sought out tall glasses of cider and a cool meal. Tonight, steaming hearty bowls of Slumgullion really hit the spot. This cheesy clam chowder is a specialty of the Luna Sea Fish House, a small local eatery where all the seafood is hook and line caught by their own boat. Just the type of home town place we love to find.

The desert and rivers provided beauty, but the sea is built-in entertainment. We were barely settled into our motel when we ventured back to the water. I never tire of walking the beach, watching the waves and feeling the wind on my face. The only thing left to make it perfect would be a colorful sunset. And we had that too. There is a lot to like about being back in the saddle.



We’re Sagging

I wasn’t going to admit it. The whole idea goes against my purist nature. But the circumstances beg disclosing the truth. So here goes. For the last three days, we have gotten rides the final few miles to our destination. Yes, we took the sag wagon.

#1 – The Good Samaritan Sag

Arriving on the edge of Portland, despite having over 50 hilly miles behind us already, we decided to push on and cross the city. We knew that Portland was bicycle-friendly, and we found the Springwater Corridor Trail to be a fabulous way to traverse the city. Not only was it a smooth and protected trail, but at each intersection the cars all stopped to allow us to cross. We were really impressed.

There were plenty of other cyclists on the trail and when one asked us about our trip, we struck up a conversation and cycled together for several miles. Unsure of how to find our bridge across the river, our new friend Doug immediately offered, “Here, follow me.” It just so happened that his house was en route to the bridge, and Doug invited us in for a cold drink. It didn’t take much encouragement, and we enjoyed extending the visit and sharing cycling stories.

Doug expressed concern about the route to reach our motel due to construction, heavy traffic and steep hills. Before we knew it, he’d convinced us to let him take us and our bikes to the motel. I felt pretty sheepish until we actually drove the route, and I saw the shoulderless passages and narrow lanes. He was right, we were a lot safer in his truck. Not only were we extremely grateful for the lift, but our day was greatly enriched by meeting such an engaging fellow cyclist.


#2 – The Great Host Sag

It was a fun day of cycling through the wine country south of Portland. I finally got my chance to visit a vineyard when we found one just a short distance off the road. It was a small family affair, and we enjoyed taking to the owner as well as learning about their operations. We had small samples of just a few wines, knowing we still had many miles to cycle, but managed to arrange to ship a case back home. How could we resist when the grapes were from the Eola-Amity Hills?

While we were at the winery, the temperature soared into the 90s. In that heat, we were eager to reach our host home for the evening. With just two miles to go, we were dismayed to find a roadblock with local police redirecting traffic away from a brush fire. Faced with a six mile detour, we had just decided to wait for the road to reopen, when a car stopped in front of us. The driver got out and announced, “Hi, I’m Curt, your host for the night!” Discovering the roadblock, he had come to our rescue and whisked us off to his house. Talk about great service!

Curt and Barbara live in an airpark, but that didn’t mean anything to me until they gave us a tour of their house. I was totally unprepared to learn that the large structure behind their house was an airplane hangar! In fact, the street behind their home wasn’t for cars at all – it was a taxiway for them and their neighbors to get to the airstrip at the adjacent airport. Curt graciously rolled Barbara’s airplane outside so we could get a picture of it. That led to chatting with several neighbors, and getting a peak into their hangars as well. Not only are these folks avid pilots, but they all share a passion for building their own airplanes. Imagine! It was all fascinating to us.

#3 – The Family Sag

This is day 17 of our trip, and we have cycled every day so far. We are due for a rest day. It’s no coincidence that we plan to take a couple of days off in Eugene, as Rich’s brother Stewart and his wife Kathy live here. They happen to live at the top of a very steep hill (a 20% grade with roads that go straight up) and we were instructed to cycle to a park in town where Stewart would come to collect us. So our rest began we even finished our day’s journey.

I may bristle at the idea of sagging. But the demonstration of hospitality and kindness in each case has led to great experiences. Sometime it’s worth letting up on one’s principles. Even to sag.


Photo Opp!

We were on our bikes for a long time. Setting out before 8:00am and reaching our motel about 6:30pm. Sure, we covered more miles today. But the real reason was that we found so many great places to stop, ogle the view and take pictures. And the fact that it was the most perfect fall day, with sunshine and clear skies just added to opportunities.

Starting from Hood River, we traveled through the western end of the Columbia River Gorge. The scenery changed dramatically, and before long forested mountains replaced the stark desert bluffs. It was much more the kind of terrain I had expected to see in Washington and Oregon, and I have to say that I far prefer the lush green surroundings.

Since we put our cameras through their paces today, I think the story is best told through the photos.

This view of Mt. Adams greeted us first thing this morning! Up until now, it was too cloudy to see it. A great start to the day.

We stopped for a mid-morning break at Cascade Locks, where there was a beautiful park down by the river.

We rode on a beautiful bicycle path through the woods. It had a most unique way to scale the hillside - long stairs with a groove for pushing up our bikes! Thank you, Rich, for hoisting my bike!

Passing through the waterfalls area, several long thin falls were visible right from the road.

We climbed another section of Historic Highway 30 with its Figure 8 switchbacks to reach Vista House.

Women's Forum State Park was even higher yet. You can just barely see Vista House off in the distance.

Finally leaving the Columbia River, we crossed this wonderful old bridge over the Sandy River.

This was one of the most enjoyable days yet. The air was crisp yet warm, golden leaves lit up the woods, and the sky was an incredible blue. Pedaling took on a more relaxed aura, mingled with stops to enjoy the sights. And plenty of photo opps.



All About the Journey

All day long, while cycling I worked on composing a title for this blog post. The only problem was that it kept changing as frequently as the scenery. So why choose? Instead, I bring you my collection. After all, that was part of the journey.

False Start – We had great aspirations for taking local roads to avoid the interstate highway. It started out well enough, but when the road turned inland, it also got very steep. And it became a dirt road. A rough one. It was no longer fun. At the rate we were going, it would take all day just to reach The Dalles. Surrendering to the circumstances, we retreated and joined the freeway traffic for 12 miles. Surprisingly, it wasn't bad. There is a lot to be said for eight-foot shoulders and a flat road that never left the water's edge. But you didn't hear that from me.

Battered by the Wind – After 13 straight days of tailwinds – an unprecedented string of luck – we finally had to face the music… er, wind. Right in the face, blowing straight through the gorge. We'd heard about this wind, and now we've experienced it. Cycling directly into it, there were times when I thought I wasn't moving. And it didn't seem fair to have to pedal going downhill. But what was worse were the gusts. Coming around a corner after being sheltered from the wind, we were suddenly slammed by the wind at unexpected moments. I learned to be very wary of its unpredictability.

The Best Winding Road – Although I was happy to be back on a quiet two-lane road, when Rich pointed up into the hills to show me cars scaling the heights, I doubted the wisdom of our choice of route once again. But my fears soon turned to wonder and admiration for the man who engineered this road back in the days of Model-T Fords. Instructed that the grade could never exceed 5%, he designed a series of switchbacks that were infinitely cyclable and commanded amazing views. Historic Highway 30 from The Dalles to Hood River is not to be missed.

We continue to be grateful that we chose this time of year to cycle, as traffic is so light. We probably met fewer that a dozen cars all the way along this road. The twists and turns that we found so delightful would have been a nightmare if we had to contend with heavy traffic.

The last five miles of the road were closed to cars, so we had the luxury of enjoying the nascent fall colors and completing our descent with the road to ourselves. This section also included the Mosier Twin Tunnels, which had become too small for newer larger cars, but were restored for use by bicycles. The fascinating thing is that the two tunnels are end-to-end with just a short gap in between.

At the Pinnacle – I considered cycling the heart of the Columbia River Gorge to be one of the pinnacles of this trip. I couldn't help being excited when we set out this morning, knowing we were finally going to do it. With each mile it only got better, fulfilling all my hopes and expectations. And reaching Rowena Crest at the top of that windy road was certainly a high point – in more ways than one!

For today the joy was truly in the journey.


Sprinkler Attack!

We'd been warned. We even took measures to avoid it. But the onslaught of the ferocious streams of water that pelted our tent after midnight still came as a shock.

We knew that there was a sprinkler system at the park. But due to budget cuts, there were notices on the park website stating that the water had been shut down. The nice showers and flush toilets would not be available to us, but we were willing to rough it.

What wasn't clear was whether the shutdown included the sprinkler system or not. The abundance of lush green grass was a hint, so I wandered over to talk to the camper where a few folks were sitting out enjoying the evening. They didn't know the status of the sprinklers. But being veterans of the park, they did inform me about the sprinkler guards. Short half-cylinders with stakes were available to direct the spray away from a tent. What an ingenious idea! Since we had unwittingly erected our tent within a few feet of a sprayer, we put one of the guards in place, just in case.

Not long after midnight, sure enough the sprinklers started up. We could hear them in other areas of the park, and within half an hour the one right behind our tent activated. But the guard did its work, and we were safe. We thought.

We had left the front flap of our tent open because it was so warm. When a light spray filtered through our screen, blown from a distant tap, we thought it would be prudent to close the flap. No sooner had we done so when another sprinkler started up. This one was a totally different variety. It was a strong stream that shot out with a much greater range, pivoting 360 degrees. It didn't take long to reach our tent. Wham! It pelted the front of the tent as it passed. But our trusty rain fly held and we stayed dry, even as it continued its rotation sending round after round of water at us.

That wasn't all, though. The spray also doused every inch of the picnic shelter where we'd left our bikes, panniers, shoes and other remaining articles for the night. A quick foray out into the wet night revealed puddles on top of our panniers, and a dripping table. Shuffling our gear to the dryest spot I could find, I retreated to the tent.

I guess with such a dry climate, watering only works when applied in abundance. Those sprinklers kept up for three hours, alternating positions around the park. Even when those within range of the tent shut down, I could hear them start up elsewhere, and I couldn't let go of the worry that our gear was getting soaked again. Not much sleep was had, especially when you add frequent trains rumbling past.

On a more positive note, we were treated to a nice sunrise. (Okay, so only Rich saw it and took this picture.) And the air dried our not-too-wet belongings fairly quickly. Let's hear it for those zip-lock bags.

Yes, it was a memorable night.


Are We There Yet?

I was under the mistaken impression that as soon as we started following the Columbia River west, we would be in “the gorge.” My lack of homework showing. So despite following the river around the bend and another 50 miles downstream, we still have another day or so before the transformation from desert climate to the lush green gorge between mountains. We're just not there yet.

As a result, the dry rocky landscape continues. There is a certain beauty in it, and we found some especially interesting formations while turning the corner of the river. Ready for a snack, I pulled over into a roadside pull-out. It just happened to be at the Two Sisters rocks. Not a bad place for a rest and a short respite from the big trucks on the road. While that was one of the harrier sections of highway we've traveled, overall the semi drivers have been universally courteous on this trip. Unless there is an oncoming vehicle, they pull over to give us extra room away from their big bulk and strong slip-stream.

In addition, the hot, dry and sunny weather that has been the norm persists. Today turned into a real scorcher. There was little wind, and it actually felt much better cycling and creating a breeze than it did stopping to rest.

Originally this was to be a short day, going only 37 miles to the Crow Butte State Park where we planned to camp. But a conversation with our Warm Showers host last night revealed that the park had a large population of rattlesnakes and scorpions! Being the Minnesotans we are, totally without experience with snakes and posessing a healthy fear of them, we quickly revised our plans. We targeted a small campground in Roosevelt WA, which made for a 60 mile day instead.

Normally 60 miles would not faze us. But throw in temperatures well into the 80s and our strength was zapped prematurely. The miles seemed endless, and never mounted up quickly enough. To add to the equation, our various map apps disagreed on whether there was even a gas station near the campground, and the presence of a café was mere rumor. We'd stocked up on food just in case, but the thought of a cold drink and a late lunch sure was appealing. If ever we got there!

The road sign read Mini Mart and the word “Open” lifted our hearts. Stepping inside the door revealed a tidy shop/café, exceeding all our hopes. We sat down gratefully in air conditioned comfort and enjoyed the best tasting meal in ages. Having cooled down, filled our stomachs, refilled our water bottles and splashed water on our faces, we happily cycled down to set up camp in the park by the river. We are already planning to return for breakfast tomorrow. I have my heart set on the huckleberry pancakes.

We made it. For today, we're finally there.



Reaching the Columbia River

This trip was planned with several key areas of interest, the Columbia River being one of them. Although technically we saw it above the Grand Coulee Dam, there it masqueraded as Lake Roosevelt. Today we reached what I consider the flowing river.

Our route to get here revealed a changing climate and farmland use. We left behind the wheat fields, which we have now learned is termed “dry wheat” for its lack of irrigation. In its place, we traveled through more diverse farm interests. Corn fields, green crops, even vineyards and the ever famous Washington apple orchards dominated the landscape. And the long spiny rotating irrigation structures were prevalent everywhere, fed by the waters of the Columbia River. We also coined a new term, “vegetarian roadkill,” for the fallen onions, corn cobs, zucchini, apples and other produce that had fallen on the roadside on the way to market.

We crossed the river from Pasco to Richland WA, greatly impressed with the bike lane provided. Not only did it have it's own separate and safe approach, but once on the bridge we were cordoned off from the traffic by tall barriers and were equally well protected from the edge of the bridge. I wish all bridge crossings were so comfortable.

Having gotten an early start this morning, we had plenty of time to take in the wonderful bike trail along the river. We started with a rest stop in the park near the bridge. There we gained a critical piece of information – directions to the nearest ice cream shop along the trail. It was indeed a good recommendation, and we savored huckleberry ice cream cones while overlooking the river.

Our Warm Showers host home was just 5 miles up the river – virtually all on bike trails. It was the easiest and most scenic approach to our lodgings ever!

The Columbia River will be our neighbor for the next week of cycling. Tomorrow we will round the bend of the river and then proceed down the river gorge. I have already picked up a map of all the vineyards along the way. And I'm sure there will be plenty of other nice sights as well. I think I'm going to like this trip down the Columbia River.


In the Zone

Progress to date: 10 days, 574 miles

Day ten of our trip, and I think I'm finally getting there. The initial adjustment period has passed and I've ironed out the kinks in my routine. I've reached the point where daily cycling is the norm and other responsibilities have faded into the background. I am In the Zone.

I recognize this condition from last year's cycling trip. It's a state of being characterized by a number of uniquely identifiable behaviors. The list goes something like this:

  • Losing track of the days. Knowing what day it is is only important when it impacts when shops or cafés will be open, or if a motel might book up more quickly.
  • Letting go of the need to plan ahead. As long as today's destination offers food and lodging options, that's enough to know.
  • Checking the weather takes precedence over checking email.
  • Being able to adjust like a rubber band. Waiting out a breakdown, flat tire or other delay is no longer a world ending event. Rearranging our route is no big deal.
  • Thinking that taking a daily shower at 4:00pm is normal.
  • Feeling my body change. The extra pounds that crept on before the trip are melting away. My legs are getting increasingly stronger.
  • Needing food. Lots of it. With each passing day, adding fuel assumes a greater importance. The search for ice cream intensifies.
  • Wanting the cycling to go on and on. Not wanting the trip to end.

The Zone is a good place to be. Life is simple. Exercise is plentiful. No shortage of fresh air. The scenery is constantly changing. I plan to stay In the Zone for several more weeks.




A Worthy Detour

If not for the advice from a cyclist on Crazy Guy on a Bike (a portal for journals of touring cyclists), we would have missed it entirely. Our planned route had us continuing straight on highway 2. But taking the shortest distance between two points is not necessarily the best choice. And that was most certainly true in this case.

Angling up to the Grand Coulee Dam instead allowed us to travel through the area below the dam which is an ancient riverbed, now home to several lakes. Called the “Grand Coulee,” it stretches for about 60 miles and is a feast for the eyes, particularly on a bicycle.

It is an extremely arid area, with less than 12 inches of rainfall a year. Huge basalt cliffs border the lakes and form an impressive landscape. One rock named Steamboat Rock, is definitely a standout. Particularly on the upper end, the road clings to the base of the cliffs and we rode in the shadows of their huge height. At times the road cut through the rocky formations, and sometimes we rode up and over the lower ones.

Dry Falls bisects the Grand Coulee. Stopping at the roadside overlook, we were amazed to see the sight of what was once the world's largest waterfall. We were only a few thousand years too late to see it, as it was wiped out by the Ice Age floods that swept through the area, leaving it high and dry. But it was still a captivating sight, especially as we tried to imagine it in its former glory.

The basin broadened out below that, but was still dominated by the other-worldly cliff structures that were so prevalent. It didn't hurt that we had yet another cloudless blue sky to reflect off the lake waters and fill the day with sunshine.

The Grand Coulee ends at Soap Lake, which is actually a natural salt water pool and contains 23 different minerals. We didn't bathe in its healing waters, but we did settle into a unique lodge on its shore to enjoy the view and savor the day's ride. We are most grateful for the good advice. In fact, I'd say this cycling and scenery was my favorite of the trip so far. The detour was worth every extra mile.