From Coos Bay to the Umpqua Lighthouse State Park
The hardworking young couple is at work and out of the house long before I get up. Pacman has been up’and’at too – I can tell by the smell of sizzling bacon that draws me into the kitchen. Pacman is flipping pancakes. “Mornin’,” he greets me. “I thought we needed some bacon and eggs.”
“Shucks, that smells awesome. Need some help?”
I get started cracking eggs. J is reading the morning paper. Man, the bicyclist’s life is the life.
We tidy up after ourselves (leave no trace still applies) then roll out. It’s noon.
Our first stop out of town is in the bicycle shop in North Bend, the little town just past Coos Bay. J is in the inner tube section while Pacman and I wander around looking at bicycle accessories that we would like, but won’t buy. “Hey, check this out,” Pacman calls over to me.
“What?” I ask, wandering over. He’s standing in front of a t-shirt display. Printed on the t-shirt is a picture of a logging truck on a bridge, about to run down a cyclist who is screaming in terror. The text says: “North Bend Bridge SURVIVOR”.
“Ha! Ha!” I crow. “Who knew a t-shirt could so perfectly capture what it’s like to be a road bicyclist?”
“Check out the tick-marks for cyclists run down on the logging truck bumper,” points out Pacman.
“Oh man, I want this shirt. Do you think it’s bad luck to buy the shirt before we’ve crossed the bridge?” (All the south-bounders hit Moe’s Bicycle shop after the ride of terror. We still have it coming up.)
“Good question,” says J, who has just joined us.
“Maybe it’s a show of good faith?” I ask again.
We decide to take our chances, and J and I pick out shirts. It comes in all sorts of colors, but we get it in neon yellow hi-vis. Pacman already has a hi-vis shirt so he forgoes the purchase. Bedecked in glowing yellow, we ride off to the bridge.
The moist coast of Oregon is watered by a ladder of rivers, running straight west from the coastal range to the sea. All the bridges seem like they were built at about the same time, in the same style, elegant, simple, with art-deco details. And every last one of them is barely wide enough for cars to pass each other. The spans are huge, crossing the river right where the river meets the ocean, swollen with tides and estuaries. There’s no shoulder to speak of, so we clump together and take the entire lane in the hopes that no one will try passing us (someone always does). It’s a study in adrenaline, pumping the pedals to get over the rise of the bridge, huge metal machines breathing down your neck. Logging trucks are scary, but they’re also driven by professionals, and they usually give us plenty of space. I can’t say the same about RVs, or trucks, or jerk-faces in compact cars.
The North Bend Bridge is just another span to cross, although maybe a bit longer than usual. We make it off the bridge in one-piece, only getting yelled at three times between the three of us. The headwind is back. We pedal for about an hour then take a three-hour break. Another forty-five minutes in the saddle and we’re at Umpqua Lighthouse State Park. It’s embarrassing to write this blog post. Thru-hiking is going to be a terrific shock to my system… either that, or I’m going to be strong, muscled up, and well-rested, and I’m going to cruise through Washington. That’s what I keep telling myself. I am feeling much better these days. I’ve put some weight back on so I’m not looking so super-model scrawny these days, and you could bounce quarters off my thighs, which have put on muscle with bicycling in a way that hiking never did.
We’ve had three days of clear weather, but the fog rolls in right as we roll into the gray whale lookout point. “See any whales?” J deadpans, looking out into the featureless gray expanse.
“Oh, about twenty,” I snark back. By the time we ride up to the campground hosts to check in, there’s a fine drizzle. We’re drenched in sweat from fighting the headwind and all three of us are deeply chilled. We’re about to go to our campsite when Betty, the host who has been checking us in, asks if we need anything. “Some hot chocolate would be great!” J says.
“And a yurt,” adds Pacman.
“Haha, oh, well, I don’t think I can help with that,” replies Betty, in a lovely midwest lilt.
The campground is shrouded in fog, and filled with huckleberries, if you look around. We’re sitting around the picnic table boiling pasta when Betty walks up, carrying three styrofoam cups filled with hot chocolate, which she leaves for us. We sit and laugh at our journey, at the goodness of the people we’ve met, about the marshmallows that Betty put in our hot chocolate. Time for bed.