A slightly longer ride was the goal for the day after another mosquito-infested night at Nehalem and we set off as promptly as we could (which for us, it has to be said, isn’t usually before 9am…) in order to fit in the miles and make the most of another glorious day.
We re-joined the 101 which continued to follow the coastline with more spectacular views overlooking the Pacific. We cut through a few small towns on route also: Wheeler, Rockway Beach, Garibaldi and more. Certainly by comparison to Canada, Oregon is generally ‘closer’ together, with shorter distances between significant towns, and tends to have a less isolated feel. Although the scenery offered by nature is the major attraction for us, we’re enjoying the variety and interest that passing through these developed areas offers: even just looking at the various stalls and shops, architecture and ‘points of interest’ adds depth and a welcome break to the occasionally monotonous process of riding- particularly when your main road of choice is a highway.
The 101, following the coast as it did, boasted continual rolling hills, working us fairly hard- but the sweet reward of downhills after each small climb made it an enjoyable ride for the morning session. Even as the 101 turned inshore after Rockway Beach, we continued to pass by quite a few lakes and never truly drifted far from the coast: and once the 101 swung outwards again to follow Tillamook Bay, we enjoyed some spectacular rock formations and sea stacks. The route climbed a points up the cliffs close to the shore, but whenever my legs started to tire and I became a little dispirited, I would look forward in anticipation to what view that climb would offer in it’s conclusion. It makes every climb worthwhile when you can stop at the top and relish the view.
Around half way and in the middle of the day, we came into Tillamook. We’d been recommended by many people to check out the cheese factory- Tillamook are the second-largest cheese brand in the US and renowned for their ice-cream as well as their many varieties of cheddar! We weren’t disappointed: the factory itself was absolutely buzzing with tourists and locals alike, come to enjoy the treat of a delicious ice-cream on such a hot day. With waffle cones made on the premises and a huge selection of truly delectable ice-creams, I was in heaven. As Matt is always quick to point out, I’m also a complete cheese fiend- and had to go to the ‘free samples’ area twice to get my fill of the variety of cheeses available! The one that struck me the most was the ‘squeaky cheese’- cheese curds in their primitive form before undergoing processing to become cheddar. A really unique flavour- and what’s more, it did actually feel as though it was ‘squeaking’ as you ate it! Truly bizarre.
Theo seemed more interested in riding the ‘Loaf’ van inside and when we went to the viewing gallery upstairs to take a peek into the factory and the cheese-making process, he entertained himself by milking the model cow. Small things….!!
I was a little sad to leave the nice air-conditioned sanctuary of the cheese factory, as although we had avoided the midday sun by spending a good 2hours in the factory, the temperatures outside continued to be intense and made cycling all that much harder. We had decided to follow the advice of our Bicycling the Pacific Coast book and opt for the longer route after passing through Tillamook, by leaving the 101 and following the Three Capes Scenic Route instead.
Although this road, unlike the 101, is largely shoulderless and generally in quite shocking condition- huge potholes, broken up concrete and generally old, bump and poorly-repaired tarmac- it hugs the coastline, following Tillamook Bay, and offers some lovely views not shared by the 101 as it heads inland to avoid the rugged coastline. The route wound around the landscape, taking us over the other side of the Nehalem spit where we had stayed the previous night. The sheltered bay still boasted the general ‘feel’ of the ocean, however: choppy at points with rugged rock enclosures, but a deep green in colour and the distinct taste of salt in the air as we passed. The beginning of the Three Capes route was largely flat and level, and made for a nice break after our day of climbing.
Then we turned inland ever so slightly…and confronted a steep 1.5mile hill.
Perhaps it was the heat, or the fact that we’d been cycling for a fair few hours already, or maybe the state of the road…I’m not sure, perhaps a combination of all of the above and more…but wow, that hill nearly finished me off. I kept telling myself as we climbed, “it’s only short…you did the Coquihalla, you can do this…” but it was truly grueling and seemingly never-ending. Frequent stops were an absolute necessity in order to keep topping ourselves up with plenty of water and every patch of dense trees that offered some sweet relief in the form of shade was a blessing. This climb over Cape Meares is NOT fun, at all- especially in the heat. If the road were perhaps in better condition, it would have at least been moderately safer- but as we were forced to weave our way between the various potholes and gaps in the road, it became a risky business, and the effort simply added to the strain of climbing. I felt defeated: it was only Matt’s form in front of me, continuing to push on in spite of the weight of the trailer, that kept me motivated. I don’t know how he did it: I had the utmost admiration for his endurance and knew I couldn’t do it with so much weight- and that inspiration and example made me bite my lip and keep going.
Just after the peak, we pulled off to explore Cape Meares State Park, which has a historical lighthouse with original prism glass, called ‘Fresnel’ lenses, that used to shine a light for 20miles out to sea. The steep climb down was worth the effort as the views from the top were spectacular, and the lighthouse itself a beautiful piece of history. We were disgusted, however, the see that the glass had been mindlessly smashed by vandals who decided to shoot the lighthouse last year, causing over $50,000 worth of damage- some of which may never be repaired, as this particular type of lighthouse is now obsolete and as such, parts are no longer available. I’m sure everyone will forgive me for saying that those who took it upon themselves to do something so utterly disgraceful are just the scum of the earth. Disgusting, and such a shame. Due to the damage, the lighthouse gallery is no longer open to the public, which was a real shame- however the paths cut into the rock above and alongside it were a great substitute, and really made the most of the seascape.
We continued to follow the Three Capes Scenic Route- with it’s continuing up and downhill sections that stretched our legs to their limit!- as it followed Netarts Bay and then finally reached our destination for the night, Cape Lookout State Park. Another beachside park, our hiker/biker site is tucked amongst the trees just beyond the beach, and from where I sit typing this, I can hear the gentle and soothing sound of the waves rhythmically rolling onto the beach. We are close enough to the ocean to escape the plague of mosquitoes that have haunted us elsewhere: and best of all, as today is apparently ‘state parks day’, all camping is free. And the showers too- real, hot showers, for free! Ah, the small things that make me happy these days.
The beach is more rocky to our end, but has lovely soft white sand as you walk further up- and we were lucky enough to walk along the beach after our showers and catch the sunset once again as it dipped behind the ocean. The beach was alive with campers- the busiest we’ve come across to date- but there was a great atmosphere for it, a general buzz as we walked along, everyone’s eyes glued towards the sun as it slowly descended. It’s amazing to think that all these people, from all different walks of life, are momentarily united by their appreciation of something that in reality, is so ‘simple’, so normal- something that happens every single day!- and yet somehow continue to hold a magic that captivates all.
Darkness has now descended in earnest and the stars are attempting to blink through the gaps in the trees above me: there’s an eerie stillness engulfing the area, and as we have just 2 fellow cyclists- both at some distance away- in the hiker/biker area, it’s a little unnerving to feel so isolated. This is perhaps the only criticism I can give to the hiker/biker site scheme: often these sites are in places that simply can’t be used for general camping; wooded areas in particular, where cars and RVs can’t pass. Each site to date has been removed from the general camping areas, which is nice in a way- quiet, certainly- but it might be nice to feel a little more ‘part of things’. Perhaps as we come across more cyclists, traveling further south, we’ll be able to create a small campsite of our own within the hiker/biker area and get a bit more atmosphere.
For now, however, my aching muscles and the spooky nature of the darkness are causing my bed to beckon to me. Goodnight.
Miles today – 52
Total Miles to date- 995