24 May, 2018
Sitting on the grass at the Ecola State Park viewpoint, the last few days blur in to one. The steep, winding road up to the park entrance has done my legs no favours but as I look out over the sands and surf of Cannon Beach on the left and towards the Tillamook Lighthouse on the right, it all becomes worth it. After a long morning grinding through the dust and dirt on Route 101, it's easy to just sit and watch as the sun beats down on the grazing Elk, dense-packed pines and dramatic cliffs that plunge in to the Pacific.
Only 3 days ago I landed in Seattle and having cleared customs, spent 2 hours unwrapping and assembling my bike in the drizzle by the taxi rank. Navigating the maze of freeways that envelop the airport proved an unwelcome challenge for a jet lagged traveller but I was soon on my way to the quiet suburb of Burien, where an Airbnb reservation was waiting. I spent the rest of the afternoon touring the many and generously proportioned outdoor shops of south Seattle (The flagship REI store is a particular highlight) in search of some camping basics in preparation for my time on the road.
With a tent sorted, I wrestled with the jet lag and stayed out for a locally brewed IPA at a well respected brew pub in Burien (tasting notes: Beery) and chatted with some curious locals who were eager to hear about my trip.
Having made the most of my last night in a proper bed for the next few days, I packed my bags and got on the road. The first stop was the Fauntleroy ferry dock, where I was to board a ferry for Southworth. Whilst waiting for the boat I got chatting to a fellow touring cyclist who was heading in the same direction as me, if only for a one night getaway. We drank coffee on the ferry and chatted (predictably) about bikes, then electric bikes, then Trump (he wasn't a fan).
All too soon, the gentle thrum of the engines was interrupted by a notice saying that we were due to arrive at Southworth and we headed downstairs to prepare our bicycles for the road.
Hitting the road was anticlimactic. The routes were quiet as we wound our way across the Olympic peninsula towards Shelton the gray skies doing no aesthetic favours to the decayed industrial towns we passed. Only once I'd split off on my own to head for Potlatch State Park did the sun burn through and I was rewarded with a typically Northwestern view: The wide and brooding Hood Canal, behind which the forest held back the snow capped peaks of the Olympic Range to the North.
Reasonably quiet, flat roads were offset by a light but persistent headwind that in combination with the late start meant I reached Potlatch at 1900. I was tired but had just enough time to watch the last of sun disappear across the river bend before collapsing in to my tent pitched in a 'hiker-biker' slot, reserved and discounted for those arriving under their own power.
As a slight digression, that hiker-biker slots are also referred to by the Washington State Park Service as 'primitive' slots is testament to the American definition of camping. That evening at Potlatch, as I walked past the gleaming pickup trucks and mod-conned caravans (think air conditioning units, satellite TV antennas, BBQs bigger than my hob at home) one couple were amazed that I was travelling with little more than a tent. I left them to their uniquely American evening consisting of both a roaring campfire and Fox News.
Day two dawned and after striking camp I sat by the river to plan my journey for the day. 125km of grimey and uninteresting roads lay between me and the Pacific coast at Westport and the headwind was still blowing. A breakfast of bananas and Reese's peanut butter cups got me.on the road and I set off down the long, tree flanked roads of rural Washington. My guide book had made a point of saying that there was little of interest to see on the route so I put my head down and hauled my bicycle through the rusty towns of Shelton, McCleary, Elma and the self proclaimed logging capital of the world, Aberdeen, before arriving at the state park in Westport where I was to spend the night.
Quieter than the first, the state park at Westport had access to the beach and the following morning, I went to catch the first rays of the sun cut through the haze. A breakfast of bananas and green tea accompanied by the rumble of the Pacific swell rejuvenated me and I was soon back on the road with a fresh tailwind speeding me down the coast towards the small fishing town of Bay Center.
As the clouds returned I rode down the coast road towards Raymond, another logging town. The coast here is flat and the pines and silvery driftwood palisade that lines the beaches gives the area a prehistoric feeling. Stopping for lunch at a local diner, I chatted to the other patrons (many of whom had spent their entire lives in Raymond) and they mentioned how as the logging industry in the area had declined from a long distant peak, Seattle had gone in the opposite direction with large technology companies setting up offices. As they saw it, Seattle had been transformed but rural Washington had been left behind. As I cycled off past the rusty beams of the mill, I could see what they meant.
As the the kilometers ticked by, the piles of roadside lumber became fewer, replaced with mountains of white oyster shells. Making the most of the tailwind, by 1600 I'd covered over 80km and arrived at Bay Center. The former fishing town was silent and the only campsite open was charging more than I was willing to pay. I chose to eek the last from the favourable wind and whizz another 50km down the coast to the amusingly named Cape Disappointment State Park. With two days of substantial milage behind me, I was tired but once again rewarded with a glorious sunset over the wind-whipped beach. I prepared my dinner by the beach and I chatted with some of the other campers as we sat on the driftwood to admire the view.
Morning came around and the next major landmark was the mighty Columbia River that marks the end of Washington and the start of Oregon. A terrifying bridge to cross by bicycle, the shoulder is narrow and strewn with debris whilst logging trucks fly past on your left side. Over 3km in length and with a steep 50 meter climb followed by an equally steep descent to be navigated, I was relieved to touch down in Astoria and begin the journey down the Oregon coast. The sky was blue and although the tailwind had eased, I spent a pleasant few hours pedalling down the scenic if busy Route 101 that hugs the coast. Logging and fishing towns turned in to beach resorts, with surfers braving the cold waters to catch the gentle beach breaks and RVs parked along the way.
As a detour, I took the steep and winding road to Ecola State Park where I'd been promised one of the best views in North Oregon. I was not disappointed and after half an hour of a punishing ascent up the headland and through a picturesque woodland, I arrived and sat down to eat a sandwich and rest my tired thighs.
P.s. I'm having trouble uploading my rides at the moment but when they're up you can see my route on Strava. For now you'll just have to take my word that I'm riding and not actually in a taxi.