Monday, August 29, 2011

Banks to Gearhart- in 12 hours

Clatsop county is the northern-most county in Oregon along the Pacific ocean. It's packed with thick pine forests, some old growth areas, the mighty Columbia river and some of the most stunning beaches on Earth. Despite these things and the close proximity to Portland, there is relatively little information for traveling by bike, off-road, through the area.

Enter Topographic software. I'd plotted a route from Portland to Gearhart that was around 110 miles with half of it being gravel. The gravel portion of these routes is always tricky because many of the roads out here are built for logging. The general rule I use is: for every road on your map, there are actually 6 roads built by the logging industry that don't show up on your map. But when a harvested tree area is replanted and allowed to grow for 40 years, Mother Nature also reclaims the roads, so some roads may no longer exist.

Banks-Vernonia re-decked rail bridge

To be honest, I didn't think my legs or body could ride the expected 9+ hours, so I took the free bus from Portland to Banks to cut off 27 miles of getting through the suburbs. The only downside with the bus is that I didn't arrive in Banks until almost noon, limiting the sunlight to about 8 hours, so I brought minimalist lights to finish the ride in the dark.

Banks is the starting point for a 21-mile rails-to-trails section. To some, rail trails are super boring. But I find them a good alternative to anything with cars on it. The Banks-Vernonia was packed with blackberries and mostly shaded, so it was a nice way to start the ride.

So good!

You never know what you're going to crave when you get to the Sentry Market in Vernonia.

From Vernonia, I rode Keasey Road for 7 miles of pavement before finding my first section of gravel road was incredibly grown over. Skipped that, and rerouted to the next section, which was a nice gravel road... for a while.

End of Keasy Road meant the end of pavement

It's common to encounter the road taking a dive like this, through a creek and thick brush...

... and sometimes you get through that section with rewards like this...

...and this.

Old-growth trees stumps are like natural tombstones

OK, so here is a good example of why I preach the benefits of riding FAT tires. Photos have a way of smoothing out the terrain. I rode 700x35mm tires today, and wished I had 700x42 or fatter. Why? See below.

This photo is taken with my bike in the exact same position as above, only at the ground level to show the rocks. Sure, it was rideable with 35mm tires, but it beat the crap out of me and slowed me down. Smaller tires often equate to more work!

My favorite shot of the day. I'm not going to confirm this is Saddle Mountain in the background, since I was so lost, but it's at least close to Saddle Mountain.

The next 30-some miles of gravel would prove difficult, as there were three more roads that either didn't exist, or were too grown over to ride or push a bike through. There were so many re-routes that my maps weren't zoomed out far enough to provide me with more alternatives.

This particular "road" got narrower and more wild. One of four incorrect sections on the day.

Look closely, you can barely see my bike. This road was taken over by trees, then completely dropped off into a stream, and did not continue on the other side. Nice. Reroute once again.

It was 7:30 p.m. and the sun was going down. When I zoomed out on my GPS to see how far I was from Gearhart, I was only 2/3 of the way there. At this rate, even in the daylight, it would probably take me 4 hours. But without daylight, there would be no way to use the natural reference points, like Saddle Mountain, to find my way.

For about 5 minutes, I contemplated sleeping in the woods. I had a jacket that I would stuff with dried grass for insulation, and I'd build a soft bed area with the same grass. My food supply and water tablets were good, so I knew I wouldn't suffer too badly, even when it drops into the low 50's (F) for the night. But without cell phone reception and not wanting to have the search party sent for me, the only choice was to get off the gravel and onto the highway.

The clock was ticking to find pavement.

Highway 202 is part of a fantastic route from Portland to Astoria. While I knew my plan B was taking pavement to Gearhart, I hadn't really mapped it out. The Hood-to-Coast running relay was the only thing happening on the Hwy. 202, so I knew there would be help if I needed it.

Shortly after I popped onto 202, it was pretty much completely dark, and I realized I was at the base of the largest climb over the coast range. 8+ hours into the ride, and I get to climb a huge ass hill.

My initial fears of whether my body could make it or not went away, as the climb seemed easy. My legs were still working well, there was almost no traffic and the stars were getting really bright. Believe it or not, I felt like I finally was starting to have a good ride.

Once down the other side of the hill, an hour onto 202, I ran into an aid station for the Hood-to-Coast running relay. I finally had cell phone reception and called my wife to say I was an hour away. I also ran into a nice lady selling biscuits and gravy for the runners. I ordered 2 servings , even though I could've eaten 6. She saw the fatigue in my face and offered up a sleeping bag for the night. Once again, I contemplated sleeping in a foreign place until sunrise. Nope, had to keep riding.

Yeah, I know it doesn't look appetizing right now. But this was the best damned overpriced out-of-a-can biscuits and gravy I've ever tasted.

The rest of the ride was fairly flat for being in the coast range. As I neared Astoria, I was realizing how far I out of the way I had to ride to get to the Oregon Coastal Highway. When I told my wife it'd be an hour, I didn't realize it would be 4.

But again, there was little to no traffic, the stars were out, my legs were still going and it was fun as hell. I finally rolled into the town of Gearhart and hit McMennamin's Sandtrap Bar at 11:55 pm, just 5 minutes before the grill closed down. Ordered a big burger with fried egg and bacon, with a raspberry stout on nitro to wash it down. Wow, that was a tasty burger.

Finally made it to Gearhart and stopped for a self portrait.

I'd ridden a pretty solid 12 hours, with only stopping for food breaks and semi-frequent map/GPS breaks. There was enough time during my ride to go through a whole range of emotions: from pissed to angry, from elated and to ecstatic, and from lost to more lost, I finally found myself on the beach, with my wife, my dog and my two good friends. I love Oregon!

Ride profile here

1 comment:

  1. Hey, what bars are you running on your bike? Open Bar? How are they on long rides? Great blog by the way.