Vicky Spring pedals atop her 14-speed Peugeot. It's 1982, or maybe '83. She can't remember exactly. But she's in Oregon, heading south on Highway 101, keeping the Pacific to her right. She's wearing a helmet, a pair of shorts and a cotton T-shirt. Regular clothes. At that time, spandex was only for the pros.
Spring does her best thinking when she rides her bike. And she's ridden her bike a lot. Including a nine-month around-the-world jaunt that led her across Europe, Tibet and even through a house in Australia. She's completed the 202-mile Seattle-to-Portland ride multiple times. When asked how many times she's toured, she can't say.
"That," she says, "is like asking a person how many times they've driven their car."
So yeah, she bikes.
Spring also writes. Her book, Bicycling the Pacific Coast (Mountaineers Books, 272 pages, $16.95), is now in its fourth edition. Commonly referred to as the Bible for touring cyclists, it's more like forbidden fruit; it tempts you into a rolling adventure.
The Oregon Coast Bike Route is 370 miles long. It starts in Astoria and ends at the California state line. A cyclist can pedal it in six to eight days, averaging 50 to 65 miles per day. The route hugs the curves of the Pacific shoreline, ambles through forests of Douglas fir trees and patches of Tillamook dairy land, and leads you over old concrete bridges—the kind whose arches look like a spooked Halloween cat.
Sheila Lyons, the pedestrian and bicycle program manager for Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT), estimates that 4,000 to 6,000 cyclists ride the coast each year, generating income in the range of $800,000 to $1.2 million. "People come from all over the world to bicycle the Oregon coast," she says. Most ride it from May until October, when the weather averages 50 to 60 degrees. During this time, there are only 20 or so measurable days of rain. It's a period of sunshine and an opportunity to take a giant bong rip of cycling.
Riding all day, for days at a time, can allow for a person to experience "flow." Flow is a mental state proposed by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, where a person becomes totally immersed in what they are doing. Think of it as focused attention similar to meditation. Some call it "mindfulness," while others call it "bunk." But I'll just call it relaxation, a state of epic chill. And in that moment of whatever-you-call-it, life is good.
The OCBR encourages flow by providing cyclists with plenty of space on the western side of the road. Though some sections of highway force a rider into the lane, most of the route, especially in southern Oregon, has pretty good shoulders. These shoulders allow a cyclist to relax and forget the fear of getting rear-ended by a Winnebago driver from Iowa so they can concentrate on the task at hand: pedaling.
The extra space is a direct result of Lyons' roar. "We lobby to try and get the shoulder pushed over a little more," she says. "It's extremely expensive to widen coastal roads. So we try and leverage the paving jobs that are already scheduled."
There is no designated funding for the OCBR. It relies on cooperation between state and county transportation departments, which squeeze out funds from their budgets to get things like OCBR signs. Lyons estimates that 160 of these signs—colored green and pictured with a bike caricature, a gull and waves—appear throughout the entire route. It's not a lot, given the distance, but enough to mark all intersections where the route departs Highway 101, so cyclists won't get lost.
The signs, however helpful, don't compare to Spring's guidebook. Inside her portable tome, a person can find detailed road directions, restroom locations, elevation profiles and daily mileage logs. You know, the sort of thing any good guidebook publisher requires. What sets this book apart is that it almost dares you to ride. It's the carrot in front of the horse, or, in this case, the chocolate-almond-fudge Clif Bar in front of the cyclist.
When I talked to Spring, it didn't seem like she needed any extrinsic motivation to complete anything. Her voice is fast and live and sharp. Words ping off her lips at a rapid rate. She's confident and busy with the task at hand. She completed that first tour on the OCBR when she was 30. In 2002, she rode down the coast again, this time towing her kids in a trailer. That puts her current age at, umm...you can add.
And you can be sure that Spring will go on another bicycle tour. They're addictive. "It's hard to put your finger on," she says. "You're out of the car and you feel the wind. It's like a long hike but you can go farther."
It takes one hour and 48 minutes to reach the start of the OCBR from Portland. Con a friend into driving you there. Pack your bike. Pack Spring's book. Keep the ocean to your right. Let it flow.
For a map of the Oregon Coast Bike Route, visit oregon.gov/ODOT/HWY/BIKEPED/maps.shtml.