For the full photo diary of this part of the tour please click here
Both famous and popular with bike tourists, the Oregon coastal route is at the low-end of intermediate when it comes to cycle challenges yet provides outstanding rewards for that apparently minimal effort. Glorious coastal vistas, quaint little seafaring communities and regular conversations have inspired the mind while frequent topographical lumps and bumps served to keep the legs interested. Perhaps lacking the ‘smack you in the face’ splendor of roads past and routes to come, the Oregon coast has been homely and unpredictable in equal measure. Meteorological unpredictability has taken me through the full spectrum of conditions but never driven me away from my faithful tent, and I even met another cycle tourist.
The air was fresh and sharp and the skies blue as I spun out of Astoria in the north-western corner or Oregon. Ten days and zero washes later I rolled through Brookings in the far south-west of the State under similar conditions. The filling in this sunshine sandwich was an exciting blend of the cold, the wet and the icy. Moisture of some sort has fallen from the heavens on every day bar one and I was lucky enough to experience one of the two annual days of snow that hit this part of the coast. The rain has been often torrential and unrepentant, the coastal winds challenging and although generally agreeable the temperatures did for three days fail to top 3 degrees Celsius. Yet at the end of everyday I have dragged my increasingly grubby self into the dry little cocoon of warmth I call my tent and settled into sleep with a huge smile in my heart.
Considered ‘hard-core’ by fellow cycle tourists and bike shop workers and plain simple crazy by Joe public, I am proud that I enjoy camping in even the most inhospitable conditions. Through a mix of mental and physical preparation and the streamlined camp craft that comes with a certain number of months on the road, I am aptly able to deal with repeated days of hostile weather. In alliance with this I have developed a stubborn refusal to pay for any of my accommodation and as such am becoming increasingly adept and cheeky with my stealthy camps; I know where to go and how to get away with it. I will always find somewhere undercover to cook my meals and ensure I can scamper away undetected from my stealthy sleeping spots by rising before the sun. Although becoming increasingly ordinary to me, my life is starting to feel more and more as if I am living apart, looking into society from the outside, a state surprisingly conducive to appreciating the places I am moving through and the people I am meeting.
It’s a funny thing that I probably wouldn’t considered my lifestyle so out of the ordinary if others didn’t keep telling me it was and I am. On the evening I slept in Lincoln City, when the temperatures sunk to zero and the snows came, I even had a well-meaning lady wave a wad of cash in my face almost begging me to get a room for the night (or was it to spend the night in her room… I can’t quite remember) either way the proposition was embarrassing and brushed off without a thought. Despite my stubbornness and unbreakable solidarity with my tent, never have I felt my well-being to be threatened and seldom have I felt at all uncomfortable on account of this commitment. Of course the word ‘comfort’ is entirely subjective and contextual… if I were a wimp I’d still be in London.
I’ve had a few other interesting and thought-provoking encounters with folk over this last 400 miles: When spinning up one particularly charming piece of single lane coastal track between Lincoln City and Newport, a time when snow coated both the roads that crunched under my tyres and the cliffs that dropped away beneath them, a woman pulled up beside me in her car to proclaim: ‘You’re either incredibly ambitious or extremely stupid. Which ever it is you still have my admiration’. Although I bantered back with a chirpy ‘probably a bit of both!’, the reality is that I am driven neither by ambition nor by stupidity. After hours in the saddle deliberating, my tentative conclusion is that I am driven by a need for definition, the definition of who I am for myself as well as clarity as to what defines me in the eyes of others. I am Nathan, the guy who’s riding his bike to Argentina, before this I was all manner of half things.
Solo riding is as expected making me much more accessible to others and this has accordingly led to the receipt of great kindness. There were Carla and Lee who took me out of the wind and rain and into their motor-home just north of Cape Lookout to feed me with a great hot breakfast and equally warm conversation. Then there are Ed and Bobbie who have received me in their beautiful home and whose warm-hearted hospitality and company I am currently enjoying. I feel privileged to be a part of the cycle touring club that gives me license to meet, let alone stay with such loving and uniquely entertaining people. This club also includes the guys at Newport Bike shop and Bryan, another south-facing tourist with whom I enjoyed a days riding. Bryan is laying trail from Seattle down to Key West, a fine gent and a good laugh I treated him to a night of stealthy camping in Coos Bay in return for a couple of Cliff bars, coffee and some outstanding company.
Sometimes some of the most rewarding encounters are with those completely divorced from the cycle touring world that envelopes me. Just south of Winchester Bay I detoured down to Umpqua Lighthouse for my mid morning brew. As I stood there looking over the Pacific engrossed in thoughts of disrespect for the four-wheelers that roared over the dunes between us, a young kid shuffled up behind me. Black, relatively short and swamped in his baggy clothes and basketball shoes, he looked incredibly out-of-place. We got talking and he turned out to be a seventeen year old down from Portland to visit his Gran for Thanksgiving. When I told him I had cycled down from Alaska it nearly knocked him off his feet and he literally scratched his head in disbelief when I divulged my intentions. His reactions were valuable to me in putting my goals and achievements into perspective, but this as not why I remember him. We were talking about responsibility and how I was able to do what I am doing as those who I have responsibility to are able to cope with me doing so. I explained the nature of his responsibility to his Grandmother to which he responded ‘I never thought of that‘. My riding a bike bought me into contact with someone who wouldn’t have talked to me otherwise and made him think in ways he hasn’t before; I was able to inspire him and as corny as it sounds that really inspires me.
The Oregon coast has treated me to other delights apart from people though. Memorable moments include feeling the fading sun come out over the sea stacks of Cannon Beach, looking down on a beach entirely covered in vocal Sea Lions and fighting my way through the darkness and a gale to reach a particularly naughty camp spot on Port Orford Heads. I even had a ‘moment’ when camped up at the closed Beachside State Park; sat on the beach, listening to waves crash onto the freezing beach, alone and in the dark I experienced an all-encompassing feeling of contentment. Blissfully clearheaded I was free to ponder the state of my mind. My diary that night read:
‘I have no complications in my life and have a pure and honest focus. Nature is welcome to continue its [meteorological] onslaught for I am in heaven here.’
Yesterday I rose before 6am and treated my body to a workout; we climbed over 3,800 feet along a 70 mile course to reach California before I about turned back into Oregon for a night of comfort with Ed and Bobbie. I have not so much conquered the coast of Oregon than not let the unpredictability of Oregon’s weather conquer me. Memorable for a few moments and people, this time will inevitably become swamped in the broader story of my adventure but has nevertheless been invaluable as a subtle chapter in my personal development and joyous embrace of solo bicycle touring.
Onwards I move towards the giant Redwoods that have been calling me for years and a San Fransisco date with the people I love most, my parents.