Bend in the Smith River heading west to Reedsport.
It’s late April, and I’m heading off solo for a much needed adventure after working long hours on a big project for a company that makes hi-end camping gear. Most of the people I’ve been working with are serious outdoors-people. One new friend even traveled around the world for a year and a half via bicycle, including places like Mongolia, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. This has inspired me to get out of the house and head off on a week-long bicycle adventure.
I’m taking Amtrak from Seattle to Eugene, Oregon (7 hours), staying overnight with friends, and then heading off by bicycle for the Oregon coast to Bandon, where I will be camping near the beach. I’m carrying about 47 lbs. of gear on my bike.
My route takes me along the Smith River from a town called Alma, coming out near Reedsport on my way to the Pacific Ocean.
Smith River Route to the sea.
Wed. 4/28/10: Eugene to Smith River Falls
I headed out of Eugene at 11AM. Eugene is a great place to ride. The Amazon Creek Trail and Fern Ridge Path are beautiful bike trails ending in a spectacular meadowland and wetland bird sanctuary. From there I headed to Crow Rd., Coyote Creek Rd., and Wolf Creek Rd., which quickly led to rural farmland. Along the way I saw many newborn sheep with their mothers. I had my first and only flat here. While putting in a fresh tube the sun came out and I took off my rain jacket. Within minutes it started to rain. From here on the weather was rainy with occasional sun breaks. In the lowlands the rain was almost warm. Seemed like every time I took off my rain jacket it would start to rain. When I put my sunglasses on the skies would darken.
The first day’s route had 3 major climbs before reaching the Smith River Road. It was cold and rainy on each mountaintop. Hail and icy rain in places, warm and sunny in others. The Smith River meanders like an intestine. It’s a perfect cycling road. For about 40 miles I saw only one car, amazing for a paved road. This is definitely off-season. I have the place to myself, but the price is weather that is comfortable only for the likes of Sasquatch. I eat lots of snacks, but plan to take a lunch break in a town called Alma. It’s clearly marked on the map, but it never appears.
It’s getting late in the day. Maybe 6-6:30 PM. The light is dimming, but it was dim much of the day. I’m pretty tired from climbing with nearly 50 lbs. of gear, and somewhat battered from the weather. The road has meandered through lush rainforest. Numerous waterfalls spill from the hillside rocks. The river is running fast and muddy. Winter bike commuting in Seattle has taught me how to dress for wet weather cycling. Wool Ibex tights under synthetic mountain bike shorts, wool socks, rain booties, and a Showers Pass rain jacket keep me comfortable even though I’m as damp as a baby. Like Sasquatch, I’ve grown accustomed to traveling wet. I make so much body heat that my legs dry quickly during the sporadic non-rainy periods.
My destination for the night is Smith River Falls, but having never seen Alma I wonder if I could be on the wrong road. After not seeing a single car for 3 or more hours (I really have no sense of time. I just chug along through the rainforest mist), a blue pickup truck passes and stops. The driver, Jack asks me if I’m doing OK. I ask him where Alma is, and he tells me I missed the turnoff to Alma some 35 miles back. Then I ask him what road I’m on (there are no signs out here). He tells me I’m on Smith River Road. That’s good news. I’m on the right road, but Alma is not right on the road as it appears on the map. My city-boy expectation that a town would be on the main road was wrong. It likely wouldn’t have met my expectation of what a town is supposed to be either. Maybe a few houses, maybe a store, maybe not.
Jack offers to drive me to Smith River Falls which is about 15 miles ahead. Though I realize it’s cheating, I accept his offer and throw my bike and panniers into the pickup truck bed. Jack lives out here and is returning home from barber school in Eugene. He’s rugged and looks a bit like Oliver North from Iran/Contra fame. He tells me he lived in Portland for a time but didn’t really like it. There’s not much logging happening anymore, and that’s what this area was about and why this amazing winding road was built through what many people would call “the middle of nowhere”. I can tell it’s not the middle of nowhere for people like Jack who grew up and live here. It’s a spectacular place where you hunt and fish and breathe rainforest air. Sasquatch country.
Camping at Smith River Falls.
Thurs. 4/29/10: Smith River Falls to Bandon
I camped along the river at Smith River Falls Park. I figured the falls were submerged by the high water, making them look like rapids. I slept warm and comfortably in my tent on a Therm-a-rest NeoAir mattress I borrowed for the trip. It rained all night and the roaring sound of the river woke me periodically. In the morning I felt good. The weather looks like RAIN with occasional sun breaks. Traveling off-season, that’s part of the deal. The payoff is that I’ve got this world to myself, which is pretty amazing.
I packed up and got back on the bike. Headed off and discovered the falls were actually 1/4 mile downstream from my campsite. Upon seeing the falls I yelled “Look where the fuck I am!”. Sasquatch country is magnificent. It’s the rain that makes it so. As such, don’t complain about it.
I spent about an hour at Smith River Falls, looking around, taking pictures, breathing the rich air.
The forest downstream steamed as the sun burned away the top layer of mist.
I filled my water bottle from one of the many feeder falls spilling from the hillside cliffs. A bottle’s-worth of water poured down my sleeve. This particular spot and time was the highlight of my trip. Over the next hour I saw one or two cars.
Occasionally, the rain stopped and the sun came out. This is a very lush spot.
Occasionally, a surprised grouse exploded from the roadside like a hidden Jack-in-the-box. I forgot to mention that the day before I saw the tail end of a Bobcat, as it headed into the forest from the roadside. A pair of what I think were Ruffed Grouse stood in the middle of the road facing each other until I came quite close.
Smith River Grocery & Tavern
Eleven miles from the falls, I stopped at the Smith River Grocery on Jack’s advice, hoping to spend some money, and spread some bicycle goodwill. I often wonder how us odd granola-breathed city folk are perceived out in rural areas where pickup trucks are actually used for hauling stuff, and bicycling to work is impractical with the vast distances between places. The sign said OPEN, but I had to look twice, as it looked dark inside.
I opened the door and stepped into a general store not unlike what you might have found 80-100 years ago. Behind the counter stood a pretty young mother and her son who appeared to be about 7. The boy preferred to go shirtless despite the cool temperature. A happy healthy looking kid. The mom was very shy and I suspect I may have been a surprise customer. Considering the fact that I’d seen a total of maybe 3 cars during the past day, how many customers had they had during that day, that week, that month?
The lights were dimmed and I had a sense that the business was in a kind of hibernation, looking forward to summer, when the road would be full of tourists, and their single gas pump the only place for gas. I suppose they had business during hunting season, but I don’t know when that was. I had to circle the shelves several times to find food that would be suitable for my healthy energy needs. Those pickled eggs sitting in a jar were out of the question. Who eats those? Hunters? My tastes are pretty eclectic and I’m willing to try most ethnic foods, but I’d sooner eat a light bulb. They had a few different kinds of beef jerky, but fear of digestive problems while riding 75+ miles that day caused me to pass them by. I asked the boy “what should I get?”. “Chips are good!” he said. “Chips ARE good,” I replied. Finally, I spotted a few bags of salted almonds and pretzels.
Dad appeared behind the register. I wondered if my forward ways were making them uncomfortable. I hadn’t had much human contact for a day and that was new to me. I suspect the arrival of a strange city weirdo on a bike may have raised their antennae. The kid was thrilled though. I’m 100% certain I was the only cyclist through this road for quite some time. I paid for the bags of almonds and pretzels. “Summer’s coming,” I said as I headed out the door and got on my bike.
"Baby" is my traveling companion. By looking at "Baby" you can easily tell what the weather conditions were.
Several private suspension bridges cross the Smith River, leading to isolated homes. Judging by the bold NO TRESPASSING signs, they like it that way.
Eventually, I emerge from the rainforest, as the Smith River road merges with a higher traffic road. The towns of Gardiner and Reedsport lie ahead. As pleased as I am to be making progress toward my destination of Bandon, I am sad to leave Sasquatch country.
Stopping at a scenic overlook near Winchester, I see a mode of transportation totally unlike mine. My trip is fueled primarily by a variety of baked goods and dried fruit.
Lonnie and Nancy are two of the super-cyclists I met on the road.
I met Lonnie and Nancy at the scenic viewpoint near Winchester, which was my first glimpse of the Pacific Ocean. Lonnie and Nancy are not traveling together, but have periodically crossed paths. Lonnie is celebrating his 60th birthday by cycling from Vancouver, BC to San Diego. His wife will meet him somewhere ahead for dinner and motel. His sons, both in their 30s will meet and ride with him at different points, using a bicycle Lonnie’s wife carries on the back of her car.
Nancy is a schoolteacher from Vermont. She is circumnavigating the US on bicycle. She’s a terrific writer, photographer, and patient explorer. I’ve included a link to her blog at the bottom of this article. She reminds me that I am a wimp and my bicycle adventure is just a walk in the park. Thank you Nancy!
Here's an impressive photo of Nancy from her blog.
I’m set on reaching Bandon tonight if physically possible. At Charleston I see a sign that says “Bandon: 24 miles”. I can easily ride 24 miles in Seattle. Mileage isn’t the issue. It’s the elevation gain and hauling 47 lbs. of gear that takes energy and stamina and gradually wears me down as the day progresses. Seasoned expedition cyclists pace themselves for the day-in-day-out climbs. I don’t yet have that patience and am anxious to reach Bandon. Fifty miles a day is a reasonable goal for this terrain and load. I am going for somewhere around 75 miles today. Immediately after the sign to Bandon, the road climbs very steeply. The road name changes to Seven Devils Road. Is it named after the seven climbs over the next 24 miles? I don’t know. I wasn’t counting. My race-face is gone, replaced by my schlep-face.
First sign of Bandon.
The next 24 miles felt like 75, and I didn’t enjoy it much. I could have set up camp at this point, but knowing that I was going to make it to Bandon by end of day kept me going. There were scenic route signs pointing to alternative ways of getting to Bandon. By this point I’d have plenty of scenery and wanted the quickest route into town. I stopped at the road leading to Bandon Dunes, a world-class golf resort, and flagged down a car driven by an employee. He told me the road through the resort was a public road and was the best route. The road wound from gatehouse to gatehouse through this very posh but rugged resort. I was told by a caddy I met in town a couple days later, that Bandon Dunes is modeled on the old Scottish links. Caddies actually carry the bags. No golf carts allowed except for limited handicapped use. He also told me you’d spend about $1,000-$1,500 per day to golf and stay at Bandon Dunes.
I pedaled into Bandon at about 7PM, worn but satisfied that I’d accomplished my goal. I often have a food destination, and today’s was a restaurant called Wild Rose, a bistro we’d eaten at 10 years ago when my kids were small. Back then, the owner made them macaroni & cheese even though it wasn’t on the menu. The restaurant had since changed hands, and offered an upscale menu catering to foodies and golf resort clientele not on a budget. Unshaven, damp, and dressed in an assortment of escaped circus-clown bicycle gear, I stood out among the more properly attired clientele. It should be noted that wherever I stopped to eat, people were very friendly and interested in what the hell I was up to. The menu consisted of the sort of food and small portions you’d expect from an expensive French-style bistro. I started with a plate of 6 fresh oysters ($2 per oyster). They were exquisite and I’m craving another plate right now. I chased these down with a locally brewed beer on tap, followed by a locally-grown asparagus soup (which I’m going to attempt to replicate tonight), and an entree of premium scallops. As an endurance cyclist, at the end of the day my appetite is a bottomless pit. So, although I didn’t feel full, the meal was very satisfying. At $50-$60 the meal was expensive, but I was dining alone and celebrating.
After dinner, I turned on my numerous lights, and raced across the Coquille River Bridge to Burrards Beach State Park, where I set up camp, took a very hot shower, and slept like a rock.
Fri. 4/30/10: Rest Day at Bandon Beaches
The simplest explanation of my trip goal was to ride my bike to Bandon where I would lay on the beach, drink coffee, and look for fossils, regardless of the weather. That's exactly what I did.
This is the beach south of the Coquille River.
This is one of the fossils I found on the sandy spit beach north of the Coquille River.
In the hope of not boring you to tears with every detail of my stay at Bandon, the wonderful baked goods and biscuits & gravy I ate at the Bandon Bakery, as well as the trip back home to Seattle, I’m winding down my story here. I would be remiss in not acknowledging all the wonderful people I met during my travels. Thank you Scott & Nancy for allowing me to stay in your home in Eugene. Thank you to those who helped me with a lift when I needed it, even though it was cheating. The great conversations are as important to me as the ride. The bicycle has allowed me to meet interesting and extraordinary people.
I rode for a whole day on the trip north from Bandon to Winchester Bay with Kat & Ant from England, who have given up the bummer corporate life and are circumnavigating the US from NYC (where they worked) to Key West, and across the southern states. I met them on their journey north along the west coast. That's Kat on the right.
Click here to see my Flickr photo stream.
Click here to see a Google map of my route.
Follow Nancy Wright’s travels at crazyguyonabike.com
Follow Kat & Ant’s journey around the US.
Pizza Research Institute: Where we eat when in Eugene.
MSR Hubba Hubba Tent in action.
MSR Hubba Hubba HP Tent
This is a beautifully engineered 2-person tent that is also perfect for 1-person bicycle expeditions. It weighs 3 lbs. 11 oz. A great trick for self-supported bike camping where pannier space is tight, is to pack the fabric part separately from the poles. I used a Granite Gear compression sack to squeeze the tent fabric down to a ball the size of a grapefruit, thus saving precious space.
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Inflatable Mattress
I borrowed one for this trip, but am going to buy my own. The Regular size weighs just 14 oz. and rolls down to the size of a water bottle. I recently learned that over-inflating the mattress does not make it more comfortable. Inflating the mattress, lying on it, and releasing air until it molded to my body like a nest, resulted in the most comfortable sleep I’ve ever experienced while camping.
Granite Gear Compression Stuffsacks
I’m a big fan of compression sacks for self-supported bicycle camping. I used a size Small to compress and hold my tent. The sack weighs just 2.2 oz.
Showers Pass Rain Jackets
Designed in Portland by people who know rainy weather cycling first-hand. Comfortable, lightweight highly breathable technical fabrics. Plus, I think they look pretty good. I wear the Elite 2.0, but they have other styles. Their jackets are likely the best made.