Oregon - Tearing Down the Coast - CycleBlaze


Down the drain, blow out(s), 5¢ ice cream,, C. Francis Richter, le maillot à pois

In 1963 the iconic Astoria-Megler Bridge crossing mighty Columbia River had not been built. The ferry boat to Astoria was a WWII vintage landing craft. They had never had cyclists as passengers before so they told us to park our bikes at the bow near the landing ramp, "no charge." It had been a long day and we stayed in an old hotel in the center of town, $5.00 for the both of us.

If you are under say fifty years old or relatively new to cycling, listen up. When you ride over a storm grate with their horizontal safety straps welded over the parallel supporting bars be advised that they weren't always there. Back in the day you had to be on the constant look out for storm grates. Narrow racing tires and even moderately wide cruising tires would easily slip between the iron bars. Be forever grateful for the lobbying and litigating efforts of your cycling elders.

Before leaving Astoria I found  a cobbler who correctly nailed my cleats back onto my well marked shoes. I was at full power again and ready to tear off the American Automobile Association Trip-Tic maps at a rate of two or more a day.

US Highway 101 from Port Angeles pretty much to the northern outskirts of San Francisco was a narrow two lane road with little to no shoulders. Somehow Seaside, Oregon was the exception. It had fairly wide shoulders, fresh pavement, curbs, sidewalks and storm grates. South bound into the town is down hill. I seldom grabbed the lead on the down hills from Ed, but I did this time. On the velvet smooth pavement I was flying fast enough that my front tire flew over the storm grate entirely. My rear wheel hit and hit hard. I went flying. I hit with enough force that my shoes, which were securely strapped in, popped out of the rat traps, see the above paragraph on pedal/shoe attachment. I wound up sprawled on the smooth concrete sidewalk with a minimum of road rash and bruising. My rear rim didn't fare so well. There was a nasty dip in it and it was twisted side to side. There was no bike shop in Seaside.

It was time to pop the brake release lever and wobble down the road. The first bike shop was in Tillamook. The owner was in the process of taking classes on how to work on ten speed bicycles, which he was planning to start selling in his store. He has never worked on an aluminum rim and didn't want to start with mine. Needless to say he didn't have any tubular wheel sets hanging from the ceiling in the back room.

We stopped at the Tillamook cheese factory hoping to get some serious samples. For taking a forty five minute tour, we got a half inch cube of cheddar and one of jack. That was the first and last tourist trap stop we made on Hwy 101. We did learn a little bit about cheese making. For the record Tillamook cheese was and is pretty natural.

When we got to Lincoln City I got the same no service answer at the local bike store. The damaged wheel was slowing us down tremendously. The sharp asymmetric dip and twisting jerk of the bent wheel was etching into my nerves and body. We stopped at a gas station to add air to our tires and we talked to the mechanic. (Most gas stations back then had full time trained mechanics on duty during the day.) He did some motorcycle work and offered to lend us his tools. Using an anvil, rubber mallet, a pry bar and a vise I got the worst of the damage straightened out. I had some rear brake action again and could ride down the road and not feel like I had a broken brick tied to my rear wheel. My repair lasted until we reach San Jose, California.

We told all the jokes we knew in the first few days on the road. We started to make up jokes on the road. There was a series of jokes going around at the time call "Swifties" from the Tom Swift adventure stories. They were made up of an observation and a descriptive adverb delivery, e.g.: "This is a very bad road, said Tom roughly." There were dozens about the logging trucks, the weather, how hungry (near lunch time), and flat tires, (hissingly, explosively, cuttingly). "I don't think this saddle will ever get broken in said Tom painfully."

We made up new joke forms, but time has left only the dimmest outline of their existence. They mostly kept our spirits up. There seemed to be no end to our conversation on all the topics of the day, from dating to the civil rights struggle, although there would be long periods of just silent riding with each taking a turn pulling at the lead.

By the time we reached Newport. Oregon our cycling appetite was kicking in big time. At one hundred forty five pounds, six foot one and still growing there was very little fat to live off of. So fat was what we needed. Anyone who has ridden some serious distance for consecutive days knows the demand for increased caloric uptake amplifies in a serious and dramatic fashion. Add to that the high metabolism of growing sixteen year olds and we are talking four to six thousand calories a day to ride down the road. Back home "31 Flavors” (that's Baskin and Robins) scooped up ice cream cones at 25¢ a scoop. In Oregon it was 5¢ per scoop with special cones that held three big scoops of really rich Oregon ice cream. One oceanfront ice creamery sold a five-scoop cone for 25¢-I tried, but failed. Three scoops gave us sufficient caloric content to until dinner and became a daily afternoon ritual during our time in Oregon.

Some place in Oregon we pretty much stopped cooking. It was pancakes for breakfast and pot roast for dinner. I have almost no recall of ever stopping at a restaurant for lunch. I mean my God, they wanted $1.50 for a measly hamburger at most of the mom and pop grills. Fries and drinks were extra.  Our wallets would be drained in short order. We were traveling well beyond the boundaries of civilization with its fast, cheap food franchises on every other block.  Whatever we ate for lunch it must not have been too memorable. I’m thinking chips and a Coke was not uncommon.

We quickly settled into a morning routine of wake up, tidy up and break camp. Ed rolled up the sleeping bag tighter than I, so I pump all the tires up. Tubular tires were and I think still are notorious for exhaling air. Keeping them inflated was a twice a day ritual. We rode for approximately two hours before finding a place to eat breakfast most days.

On the whole trip we only met one group of bikers, three college students who were riding "English racers" from Newport to Corvallis, Oregon a distance of about one hundred miles. They were duly impressed with our ambitious odyssey and we were equally impressed to be talking to three college coeds on the open road. They were the only people of any age we met on bicycles in twenty four days. We did see two men riding Harley Davidson motorcycles heading north. They waved and gave us thumbs up. Then they turn around and caught up with us to talk and compare notes for a few minutes and we were on our separate ways. Such is the brother/sisterhood of misfits on the road.

The logging trucks were as thick and fast in Oregon as Washington. One truck would pass us coming or going about every two minutes all day long. Every sixth or seventh time they passed us from each direction at the same time. Normally the trucks coming up from behind us gave a loud blast with their air horn but also past us with a wide berth. The oncoming trucks also gave us a loud honk. When they passed us together there was very little room left on the road. We just held onto the handlebars as tightly as we could to keep from getting sucked into the sides of the trailers.

Log hauler photographed on 2009 tour. Imagine a 1963 truck burdened with a single old growth log.
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The honking was not limited to trucks. Whenever we were on our bikes we were subjected to honking from every car it they approached us from behind. As they passed they didn't wave to us or cheer us on. Mostly there was no expression of fellow human recognition at all. I don't know what they expected us to do. I think very few had seen cyclists on the highway before and it was their way of giving warning the way you might do with stray cattle on the road side to see if they would spook and leap into the middle of the road. We experience this from the time we entered Washington until we neared San Francisco and the highway widened. In exasperation we would preemptively wave before the honked when we heard a car coming up, to let them know we heard them. It helped a little.

In Oregon, Hwy 101 has two tunnels. They are narrow and at that time had no lighting. Today there is good lighting and a crosswalk style button to push that activates a flashing sign that warns motorists of bicycles in the tunnel. Needless-to-say there were no such flashing signs in 1963 and I doubt if any drivers had ever seen a bicycle in either of the tunnels. Of course we didn't know about the tunnels until we got to them. We stopped and planned a strategy. We had no lights of any kind. We counted the log trucks until the two pass each other right at the tunnel entrance and we did our best impression of Jacques Anquetil in the Alps sprinting to daylight and a wider bit of tarmac. It worked both times and we were well out of the tunnels before the next log hauler roared by with his air horn blasting. Today you are more worried about motor homes.

The hero image 1963 - public domain
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In 2007 I rode down most of the Oregon coast for a bit of adventure and exercise. It wasn't meant to be a stroll down memory lane, but it was hard not to try and remember places and people we met. All the towns south of Lincoln City have grown and advertise their "old town" to summer tourists. In 1963 the old towns were "the whole town." When we sat down at a cafe counter and ordered a "logger's stack" of pancakes odds were very good we would be sitting next to a group of loggers doing the same. Now many are tourist dives, but a few are still quite authentic in the layout and spirit of the old days, and many of the owners are descendants of loggers, fishermen and cranberry farmers trying to keep body, soul and place together as national chain restaurants and stores try to price them and their lifestyle out of existence. In Southern Oregon the log yards and lumber mills were thriving back then. In 2007 they were abandoned ghost mills.

By now we were used to sleeping on park tabletops and getting a relatively good night's sleep. We camped near Florence in a small tree filled county park. We slept on some pretty rickety old wooden tables, but they were comfortable enough. Then in the deep of the night, perhaps two or three o'clock, in the pitch black, our "picnic table beds" started to shake violently. There was a deafening thunder that terrified both of us. We had no idea what was happening. I shouted to Ed that I thought we were in an earthquake and should get under the tables for safety, but we were less than fully rational and just lay there clinging tenaciously to the tabletops as we bounced up and down. As the noise eventually subsided and it became apparent it was a logging train with no lights at either end. In the morning we saw that the tracks were only fifteen feet from where we were sleeping. My guess is that it was the now abandoned Central Oregon and Pacific Railroad.

Hwy 101 is almost a constant series of hills and mountains in Oregon and they are hard on the total mileage for a given day. As a diversion we would take turns trying to out climb the log trucks on the uphill grades. Ed would coach me on foot positioning when going into a hill (see the above photo of Jacques Anquetil.). Here is a quick question. When you are tucked and coming down a 10% grade at fifty mph and you can see an equally steep grade up ahead, what gear should you be in to attack the hill? Remember your lowest gear is 52 inches. (Today I have an old man's gear of 18 inches, see http://www.sheldonbrown.com/harris/gears/) I don't know today's climbing techniques using compact gearing, but back then the correct answer was that you didn't know until you were well into the grade. The technique was to spin and not power into the hill lowering your gears and cadence until you had kicked all the lactic acid out of your quads that was accumulated on the descent. Then when you legs were breathing freely you would work back up your gears slowly increasing the cadence. Properly done you could be in something near a sprint by the time you crested .

The hills of the Oregon Coast become mountains as you get into the Siskiyous near the California state line. The log trucks really have to work up these grades. Ed caught up with a truck on several occasions. On today's log trucks you will probably see twenty to as many as forty second, third or even fourth growth logs nested between the bunkers. If the truck is loaded with high country old growth there might be ten to fifteen logs. Back then we were riding with trucks loaded with low land old growth between the bunkers. The average truck had four to seven logs with the bunker poles bending way out. It was not uncommon to see trucks straining with loads of two or three logs. I heard a truck coming up from behind us on a good downhill grade. I could tell by the sound of the brakes and downshifting it had a very heavy load. I tucked down with my chin over the handlebars picking up speed. I hit the uphill shifting and slowing down as the log truck roared by giving me a toot with his air horn. The bowed bunkers had one single massive log wedged between them. The truck was still down shifting as I started up the gears and picked up speed. The legs felt good and I grabbed a few more gears. I slowly started to make up some distance. I heard Ed down the hill cheering me on. I grabbed another gear and could make out the growth rings on the log (No, I didn't count them!) Some of the biggest trees are one thousand years old or older. I suspect this old grandfather was considerably younger perhaps five to seven hundred years old.

I heard a distant 'GO' and grabbed another gear and came even with the rear axles. My legs seemed inexhaustible. I don't remember if I popped onto the 52 tooth chainring, but I do remember I was spinning fast enough to be on the saddle and still gaining. I pulled ahead of his front bumper and looked back. I hit the crest maybe forty to fifty yards ahead of the truck. I pulled over to wait for Ed. The driver gave me another toot as he passed by while shifting gears.  "Victory!

We road through Oregon in three and a half days.

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Scott AndersonI don’t think it registered before now how long ago this ride was, Robert. I was startled to have to describe taking the ferr6 to Astoria. The first time I rode down was in 1970. I’d never been to Astoria before and didn’t realize how new the bridge was then.

Great reminder too of what the drainage grates were like, and of how scary the log trucks were fifty years ago. I wa just telling Rachael about those old single log loads.
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6 years ago
Robert EwingScott, I think $10 and $20 travelers checks were the common denominations back then. I think $50 and even $100 TCs were available but far outside my economic sphere. When I traveled in China in 1998 I took $20 TCs and oddly they got a better exchange rate than US currency at the banks but nowhere near the exchange rate on the gray and black markets for $100 green backs. When I returned to China in 2005 I took cash and plastic. I think travelers checks must have been eliminated by then??

I've ridden enough of Western United States and Canada that when I pick a new route inevitably I ride at least for a short time on previous routes. Even in a short span of years things change and not always for the better. Big towns and cities grow and sprawl out at the peripheries. Small towns and villages that were just hanging on have turned to dust or worse, cheesy tourist traps. Then again some places seem timeless and beg for further exploring like the Klamath Mountains of Northern California and Southern Oregon. In small town farming country of WA, OR and CA my high school Spanish works about as well as English a block or two off the main highway and has spared me many times the ignominy of eating at McDonalds.

Two days before I started my ride down the length of the Columbia River I had my touring wheels mounted on my bike and was homeward bound from downtown PDX weaving through the PSU campus and decided to jump a curb. I hit what must have been the last open drainage grate in the US. Went right over the handlebars and flat on my back. My brand new Mavic rim was destroyed. The Bike Gallery had the same rim and built it up on my hub the next day and I was off to the headwaters of the Columbia on time.

There are not many of those giant grandfather trees left that filled a bunker trailer like the old days. Fortunately there are no saw mills left that can process the "big logs" anymore.

Thanks for reading my journal and commenting.

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6 years ago