This past Friday I went down to Eugene to pick up one of the off road touring bikes I built. Eric from Winter Bicycles was kind enough to take it with him to the San Diego Custom Bicycle Show. I've heard mixed reviews about the show, but I was grateful to have a bike there anyway.
I took the bus down to Eugene and planned to ride the bike back up to Portland. On the computer I found the Willamette Valley Scenic Bikeway, which is a state promoted bike route through the valley. There are signs marking the route, and there are detailed maps you can print off and take with. The bikeway is just what it says it is, a scenic route. I wanted to make the trip in two days, and the state route winds around, following the river, totaling about 160 miles. The route ends (or begins, depending on which way you're headed) at Champoeg State Park, which is about 30 miles south of Portland.
Much of the countryside between Portland and Eugene is farmland. I had a GPS with me, so I cut some corners from the mapped route and stayed on the small roads as much as possible. I knew I wasn't in shape to comfortably make it 80 miles a day on a loaded bike, so I tried to shorten the trip without ending up on roads that were too busy. Driving to Eugene is only about 105 miles, so I figured there had to be a bike-able way that was a little more direct.
The bus arrived to Eugene at about 10 in the morning. Because I had to change some things on the bike before riding (tires, saddle, brake lever positioning), get my bags set, and then ingest some fuel, I didn't start pedaling until a little after noon. I ate eggs, potatoes, toast and some sort of salmon patty at the Keystone Cafe. Everything was great except for the salmon, which was a dry and mealy wafer, like it had been frozen for too long and then pan-fried into despair and dehydration. I guess that's what the dill mayo was for, to coat, mask and rehydrate.
It's never a good idea taking a brand new bike on tour. I know better than that, and I went into this expecting some unforeseen issues. It's wise to put some miles on a bike and figure out the body position, and make sure everything is set up the way you want, both for comfort and general functioning. Because this was going to be a relatively short trip I wasn't too worried about it. I was more worried about the weather holding out. It had rained almost every day that week, and I knew I'd be lucky if I didn't get at least some rain.
The first day I saw patches of sun and patches of rain, both moving all around me like I was a piece of dust on a very large chess board. The wind was blowing steadily out of the west at about 10 - 15 mph. I was touched by the sun several times, and was lucky with the rain. I somehow managed to ride between patches of rain clouds and only felt light sprinkles a couple of times. Later in the afternoon the wind came around into my face and stayed steadily out of the north for the rest of the trip. It (the wind) was just strong enough to make it feel as though I was headed up an incline, and wore me out more quickly.
Somewhere between the towns of Halsey and Albany I came across this sign posted on the side of a barn. As I rode past I misread the sign and it took a moment for it to register. All I saw was, "Dick's Half Way Inn," and when it clicked in my head, I turned around, just to be certain. Clever randy Dick. But, alas, my head must have been elsewhere. Dicky's it was. The barn didn't look like an inn, it just looked like a workshop, so maybe Dicky was just being funny. Waiting for somebody to come by and share a beer. I was in the groove, and still miles from where I wanted to be, so I pressed on.
My plan had been to camp, but by the time I approached Albany it was getting late enough that I was ready to stop for the night, and there was no camping until well past town. I ate a decent roasted portobello & red pepper sandwich and fries at a deli, then found a cheap hotel room and called it a day. I'd gone just shy of sixty miles. Not being in very good shape, my legs were spent. The hotel shower was kind of a pressure-less piddle, but at least it was hot. The room smelled strongly of disinfectant, and the sheets looked clean. Things could have been worse.
The next morning, Saturday, I woke early, packed and set off. The hotel was near the highway and my choices for food were limited. I stopped at a Denny's because that's what was there. I ate a veggie omelet, potatoes, toast, and a side of pancakes. Starch and protein for fuel. I'm always uncertain if an omelet's yellow is too uniform. I like to know I'm eating eggs when I'm eating eggs. No yellow #5, or any other funny business. But that's just me. I'm suspicious when it comes to food. At Denny's, the jam comes pre-portioned in little plastic rectangles. The pancakes were grainy and too rich to finish, like eating raw batter.
Denny's has an entire menu devoted to bacon. They call it a Baconalia, like a celebration of bacon, or an indulgence; a bacon orgy. This menu is separate from the regular menu, and is full of lurid photos in which the grease glints & glistens and the yellow cheese shines like buffed plastic. There was even a paper place-mat that advertised milk shakes that they claim will cure your salty thirst after all that bacon. I'm not sure I understand. There was also the colorful dessert menu that opens like an enchanted children's book and is shaped on top like a dollop of ice cream. It's formatted with tabs for quick reference and an easy thumbing-through, and shows all the different ways to supplement your girth; ie. cakes; shakes; floats; sundaes; pies; and the ubber-thick and creamy-seeming Oreo Blender-Blaster. Sure to cause projectile eruptions and/or formidable expansions.
The morning was cold, but it was sunny and there were few clouds. I rode away from Denny's gurgling in the gut and town quickly gave way to farmland. Traffic was light and it was looking like a good day to ride. The only thing I had to contend with was the head wind. It was still coming steadily out of the north and was enough to keep the flags flat open and flapping. There were gusts that kicked up and caused me to shift down. I was only able to maintain about 10 mph, sometimes less.
Most of the rest of the day was good riding. I cut through the countryside and stayed on the farm roads until hitting 99E, which heads toward Oregon City. Out this far the traffic wasn't too heavy, but I think it might have been better to stick to the smaller roads. Since returning home I found a more direct route from Eugene to Portland that includes a ferry crossing of the Willamette River. The website is bikely.com and they seem to have a lot of good information for people touring by bike.
Just outside of Woodburn I passed a small Taqueria that looked like all good taquerias do -- small and kind of a dive, big neon beer in the window, gravel drive, hand painted sign. I needed to refuel, so I stopped. The smiling woman behind the counter was like my Mexican Mother, she was so eager to get some food in me. I ordered two fish tacos and she made sure I was comfortable and had everything I needed; the table was clean, I had water, clean cutlery. The plate of food was the right size for somebody needing to fill up. It was perfect, and by the time I finished I was ready to pedal the rest of the way home.
I might have done better paying more attention before I left on this trip. Taking 99E was fine until the last 10 or so miles to Oregon City, where the road became a four lane truck-&-auto race. I started into the final hills just as rush hour was picking up. The road narrowed in places so there was almost no shoulder, and a sheer rock wall rose up off my right. It was nerve-wracking and not very fun. By the time I arrive to Oregon City I was pretty well spent. That last ten miles was the most stressful of the whole trip.
I was ready for the last leg home, but lo, I discovered the Oregon City Bridge was closed. I obviously haven't been paying attention, and never thought to check. They are working on the bridge and it's not going to be open until around 2013. I didn't feel like waiting two years to get home. The next bridge open was the freeway bridge, the I-205, illegal for bikes. After that, I don't know, I would have had quite a few extra miles to go. But, I discovered, there is a free shuttle from Oregon City to the other side of the river, for pedestrians and bikers.
Anyway, to make a long story slightly shorter, the shuttle trip was easy, and the last leg of my trip was relaxed. I took the bike path along the old street car tracks from just north of the Sellwood Bridge all the way to the steel bridge along the southwest water front. A very nice, Portland-style finish to the ride. I rode a total of 87 miles on Saturday, with slightly over 8 total hours in the saddle. I'd left the Denny's in Albany at about 9 that morning and arrived home at about 8:30 in the evening. Long day, my legs were tired and my ass was sore. It was good to be home.
Lessons taken from this trip are: Know your bike and know your route before you start. I plan to ride back down to check out Champoeg State Park a little later in the season, when the weather is more reliably sunny. The next time I go I'll be looking for that ferry crossing.