Coast Loop 2015
3 days and 2 nights. Over to Newport taking a lot of gravel roads, down to Beachside SP south of Waldport, and back up the Yachats River valley with more gravel to Five Rivers, Lobster Valley, and Alsea.
Across the Coast Range at 5 miles an hour
One of my goals for the year was to do this ride but I kept putting it off. I had the bike packed for weeks but one thing or another kept coming up. Finally I broke free on what felt like the first autumn morning of the year. It was cool and crisp, leaves were blowing around, yet you could tell it would be a warm day. I would be taking the same route to the coast as I last year, only then I was not carrying as much gear. The extra weight took it's toll on Woods Creek road, especially after the gate on the way up to Mary's Peak road. It was hard and I started to realize why I couldn't talk anyone into doing this ride with me. Then and several other times on this tour I thought about how all those years of mountain biking in Ashland prepared me for rides like this. The typical twice a week after work ride was 3 miles of hard climbing on the fire road before coming back down on the trails.
The weather couldn't have been better. Sunny on the beach and not much wind. It was 72 when I got to Waldport. Nights were a bit on the cool side and I regretted bringing a bivvy sack instead of a tent. My sleeping bag was nice and warm though.
I thought about how to make this ride more palatable by splitting it up into more days. Instead of a three day ride it could be done in five or six, making each day quite a bit easier. Here is what a five day ride would look like.
- Corvallis to Big Elk campground - 35 miles
- Big Elk to South Beach SP - 38 miles
- South Beach SP to Beachside SP - 18 miles, or Cape Perpetua FS campground - 26 miles. An easy day leaving lots of time for the beach.
- Yachats or Cape Perpetua to Lobster Valley - About 40 miles but I have no idea where you would camp. We need to find a friend in Lobster Valley.
- Lobster Valley to Corvallis - About 40 miles
- Optionally camp at Alsea Falls on the way home, making day 5 shorter.
So that is for another year. This year I did it in three days. Continue the day by day account below.
Below is my log for each day of the tour. Use the navigation controls to scroll through the days .
Up Woods Creek. Down Mary's Peak road to Harlan road.
I did this ride last summer so I knew what I was in for. Then I was meeting Linda on the coast who already had a campsite, so I was not carrying the camping gear. This year I was self supported so the load was a bit heavier. There is some steep stuff on this climb. Last year I had to get off and push a few times. This time I was able to stay in the saddle even when I was only going about 2 mph. Nice that this bike is even stable at that speed.
Every mountain has a top, and every downhill on bike makes you quickly forget the pain you just endured on the other side. Mary's Peak road from Connors camp trailhead to Harlan road is 10 miles of fast downhill. The first mile or so is a bit rough as it was graded with course gravel for some logging a few years back. The gravel is all worn in now so it is just a bit bumpy. After the logging road cuts off it is much smoother and a very fun descent. The woods are lush and the air was cool. No question that it made the climb worth it.
Of course every great downhill has a bottom and this one ended at Harlan road, about 4 miles east of Harlan. This is a wide well traveled gravel road. There is nothing in Harlan, but shortly after is Big Elk Campground. I had a decision here as to my route. The most direct route to the coast was to take Hilltop road. I had never done it but I had the FS map and it looked fairly straight forward. I decided to save this for another day as I knew it would involve more climbing and I was beat from the Woods Creek climb. A stopped at Big Elk campground for a snack. I thought about staying the night. It is a nice spot and looks to be free camping. But it was only about 4 PM and I wasn't ready to stop.
It is 20 miles from Harlan to Elk City on a nice wide, mostly flat, gravel road. It follows Big Elk creek pretty closely the whole way. The road was pretty smooth for the first 12 miles or so and then I started running into some washboard, some potholes, and some loose gravel. Not a problem for the 52 mm tires I was riding. I got to Elk City with plenty of light left in the day. There is a little Lincoln county park / boat ramp / campground there at the confluence of Big Elk creek and the Yaquina River, 23 miles upstream. It is a popular spot with salmon fishers. The fee for camping is $20 so I found the camp host and talked him into letting me camp for $10. He was so impressed I had rode from Corvallis I think he would have let me stay for free. He even brought me a wheelbarrow full of dry firewood! I found a spot out in the open where I hoped to have a good view of the moon. Tonight was the super moon eclipse and it was clear as a bell. When the moon did come up it was behind a hill so I had to walk out a ways to see it. By then the eclipse was well underway and a crescent was already showing as the shadow was moving away. Still quite spectacular.
The downside to camping by a river of course is the dew. It set in early and heavy. Everything was wet before it was even dark. At least I had a fire. Here is where I really regretted bringing a bivvy sack instead of a tent. I was warm and dry in my sleeping bag, but the bivvy and everything else was soaked. Between this and the brightness of the moon I did not sleep well.
The sun was out when I got up, but it was still cold and wet. Fortunately I still had some firewood and got the fire going right away. Pretty soon the sun was strong enough I was able to get everything dry. It was probably close to 10 before I got started, but I knew it would be easy riding today.
I was back on pavement now. From Elk City it is 9 miles to Toledo along the Yaquina River. Very pleasant ride with hardly any cars. I wish there was a way to bypass Toledo. Besides the smelly pulp mill there is a big hill going into town, and a big hill leaving town. I got a bottle of ice tea for later and continued on.
Yaquina Bay drive was probably the highlight of today's ride. It is also a popular day route for Newport locals and I saw a number of other cyclists. It is a kind of a place out of time with a few small marinas and oyster shacks. I stopped at a grassy spot by one marina for second breakfast. I do not eat a lot when touring. I can eat frequent small meals consisting of some dried fruit and almonds, or a cliff bar, but not much more. For late lunch I might have some peanut butter on a tortilla. If I eat much more it really slows me down.
It was a lovely day on the coast. A few scattered clouds but mostly sunny and still cool. I found the Oceana food co-op in Newport and stopped for a cup of maté. That, and the hill I had to climb to get up from the bay front warmed be up nicely and I was able to shed all but my shorts and jersey. I took the posted "Oregon Coast Bike Route" through Nye beach and around the Yaquina state park, and crossed the bay bridge heading south on 101. Always a shock to get out on a busy road, especially after a day of gravel roads in the woods where I saw 2 or 3 cars all day. This stretch of 101 has an adequate shoulder and I've ridden it several times before. I ignored the south beach fish market where I usually stop for fish and chips. Not this trip. Seal Rock seems to be the sunniest and warmest stretch of beach between Newport and Waldport. Maybe the rocks block the north wind, which was providing a nice tailwind. I stopped and took some pictures while chatting with the seagulls. A bit further down I pulled into another park. It was the warmest part of the day now and I wanted to dry and air out my sleeping bag which was a bit damp from the night before. A good time for lunch as well.
When I got to Waldport the read out on a bank said it was 72 degrees! Not bad for late September. Beachside state park is 4 miles south of Waldport. There were no other cyclists in the $6 hiker/biker camp when I got there. The camp has just 3 spots nestled in the shore pine with picnic tables, one spot being a double. I took the spot I had used before which had some filtered sun coming in. The beach is right there, but you cant get through the tangle of shore pine to get to it. You have to take a trail a short distance. The beach is quite wide and the tide was very low. I'm assuming the tides were extra low and high due to the super moon. Maybe. I laid down in a sheltered spot and took a nap in the sand.
Back at camp I was preparing dinner when some other cyclists showed up. Hannah, Kate, and Benjamin were from Vancouver B.C., and Jamie was from Australia. They were all headed south, Jamie possibly to Mexico. They got settled in in time to all go down to the beach to watch the sunset. It was quite nice and really lasted a long time. There was no dew under the shore pine and everything stayed dry. I slept quite well this night.
Woke up to sunlight and was surprised to see it was already 8 AM. Another late start and I had a long day ahead of me. I could have stayed another day, but decided not to. Broke camp, said farewell to fellow bike tourists and headed south on 101 to Yachats which was 5 miles. Stopped at the market and got 2 bottles of ice tea and a banana. It was cool here but I knew it would be warm further inland. Made the familiar left turn onto Yachats River Road.
Back in the early 1970's I lived up the Yachats river valley. I still think it is among the most beautiful places I have ever been. Not spectacular like the coast or the mountains, but lush, pastoral, and timeless. Pictures could not do it justice and I took none. If you haven't been there it is worth a trip to the cost just to see it. Little has changed in the 40+ years since I lived there. There are a few more places, and a few more side roads. There is a nice Elk preserve now, but I didn't see any. Of course the river was quite low this year. The picture on the right is where the road forks, about 8 miles up. The right fork is the main road while the left follows the north fork of the river. I'll have to go back and ride it sometime. There is a covered bridge that I don't remember.
Another mile up is a paved logging road that winds back to Cape Perpetua. This also meets the paved road that goes from Cape Perpetua to Five Rivers. This is a well known bike route but I think it is quite a bit longer, and with more climbing, than the route I was taking today. At about the 10 mile mark the road turns to gravel. A little over a mile later there is a dead end sign and forest road 54 cuts off to the left. This was my route. It had been a gentle climb up to now but here the fun started. The first half mile was steep. I stopped at one point to catch my breath and had a hard time getting started again. I was thinking I would have to do some pushing and just then the grade let up and the going got easy. I found a nice clearing and stopped for second breakfast. It was absolutely gorgeous here in the deep woods of the coast range. After less than 2 miles from the start road 54 ended at road 58 and I turned left. I was now on top of the ridge and the road was fairly level. About a quarter mile further on I saw the sign for Five Rivers on road 3705 which would take me out on Buck Creek. Six miles of lovely downhill through lush forest. Very little signs of logging as this area was logged long ago and now has nice second growth. I did not see another car the entire way over to Five Rivers road. When I hit the pavement again I had gone just 10 miles on gravel.
I never knew what the 5 rivers were or what the river you follow on Fiver Rivers road is. Google maps calls it the Alsea which is of course wrong, unless you call it the southwest fork or something. I found this article about the Fisher covered bridge which says "The structure spans Five Rivers, so named because of the five streams of Alder Creek, Cougar Creek, Buck Creek, Crab Creek and Cherry Creek which make up the stream". So now I know.
I took Five Rivers road north for about 4 miles before hitting Lobster Valley road only saw 2 cars this stetch. At this point it was only 3 miles from highway 34 but Lobster Valley road would meander south on it's way east. Even though I was following the creek upstream it was mostly gentle rollers for the next 15 miles or so. It is mostly woods but eventually the valley opens up and there are some nice farms. I passed Little Lobster road on the left which is gravel and took off steeply uphill. I knew this would shave some miles but I did not know how much climbing there would be. I stayed on the black top not knowing that I had a mountain to climb either way. Again only 2 cars had passed me this whole stretch. At the end of Lobster Vally it is one of those roads where it looks like your riding into a box canyon. Usually the road somehow sneaks around without a terrible climb. Not this time. Once turning left onto Deadwood highway - 501 there were a series of sharp switchbacks as the road climbed steeply for about 2 miles. I already had close to 50 miles on the day and this was a killer. As with all mountains though it had a top, and a wonderful descent for the next 6 miles or so into Alsea.
I was so happy to get to Alsea early enough for the store to be opened. For the last 10 miles all I could think about was a Gatorade. I don't drink much of the stuff but when I need it it works like rocket fuel to get me going again. With 25 miles left to go, and Alsea mountain to climb, I seriously needed it. I sat and talked with a couple of locals for a while. They had a trailer on a truck and were headed to Corvallis and offered me a ride. Oh the temptation! Any sane person probably would have taken them up on it. If you've ever been up the west slope of Alsea Mountain on highway 34 you know it is a brutal, unrelenting climb. The steep part is probably only about 2 miles but it seems like forever. The Gatorade did it's trick however and I just settled in to a 4 mph pace and slogged on over that mountain. And if you have done this ride you'll know that the east side is about as good as it gets for windy fast downhills with lovely banked curves where you can go as fast as the cars. I didn't go that fast but still enjoyed it. Especially now that it was cooling off after a hot day.
Back on local turf I still had lots of energy for the final stretch and just enough daylight to make it home before really needing lights, although I had my rear flashy on since Alsea. A long but very satisfying day and a great way to end a short tour.