Summer Guide 2012: Pedal to the Pacific

Riding to the beach is easy, but it might make you hate cars.

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They crashed through the rainforest like dinosaurs. A distant rumble, a whoosh, and more rumble, before the creatures were gone and I could again hear my bike tires roll softly along the edge of the asphalt. The ride was so peaceful without them, even in the middle of a steep climb, and always scary when they passed, even on a gentle downward slope.

Hardcore cyclists tell me you stop noticing the traffic when you're in the zone. Even the gale from a loaded-up logging truck, they say. I never got there on my 60-mile ride to the Pacific. Rumble, whoosh, rumble. You know how you feel the waves in your sleep after a day at the beach? After biking to the sea, I passed out at dusk with rumble, whoosh, rumble in my ears.

I'm not sure why I felt compelled to make this ride. I own a car, and my bike is a hefty commuter with eight lunky gears. I don't have a bike rack, just a messenger bag. My seat has almost no padding—I can feel my ass after riding seven miles to work. I'm often passed by faster riders on better bikes. I've never changed a flat tire.

But having grown up in the Midwest, where a trip to the sea was a once-a-year treat, it's probably not surprising that I became so enchanted by the idea of leaving my house on a bicycle and arriving at the Pacific. So I found myself on Oregon Route 6, following the Wilson River past farms, through a misty rainforest, over a pine-covered mountain, past a muddy bay and out to the sea. Dozens of wildly different landscape scenes rolled by in one day.

For a serious cyclist, my 60-mile route was not impressive. I did not approach it as though it was. The trip was planned on Friday afternoon. I got a room at the cheapest motel in Tillamook, $20 worth of trail mix, and one seat on the Sunday bus back to Union Station. My messenger bag was loaded with two water bottles, a book, two new tire tubes and a pump.

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I left just as Saturday brunch spots started taking names and hopped the Blue Line MAX from the Hollywood station over the West Hills. The train pulled into the last stop in Hillsboro around 10 am and I rode through Forest Grove and into the rolling farmland of the Tualatin Valley.

Cows notice you when you're on a bike. They never seem to look up for the rumble, whoosh, rumble of the cars—they're in the zone—but the squeak of a pedal stops them mid-chew. There are a lot of cows on the ride to Tillamook.

Tillamook is, of course, home of the cheese. The agrestic burg is surrounded by pastures smelling of both cheese and shit—sometimes cheesier, sometimes shittier. At the namesake industrial creamery and gift shop, the skills honed herding and milking cows have been seamlessly adapted to tourists. The herd feeds on waffle cones as it's corralled through one line and then another. This must be easy work for the farmers. Electric prods are rarely needed with this docile breed; the bolt gun almost never.

Tillamook the town is far less scenic than Tillamook the forest, one of the nation's most productive timber forests. Most of the ride to the grubby town is through the beautiful forest. Even stands gutted by a forest fire seem lush. I read about that fire on a landmark sign placed along the route's one really big hill, a 1,500-foot climb through Douglas fir that left me winded and my supply of trail mix severely depleted.

Tillamook isn't the grandest destination, but it is the nearest coastal city by cycle. The tiny Cape Meares beachhead is almost directly across from Portland, about 40 miles nearer than Astoria. The ride is totally doable for anyone in decent shape. With stops to eat, read and drop my heaviest cargo off at the hotel before riding the last 10 miles to open water, I was pedaling by the bay long before dark. I was standing on the soft sand, sucking in a salty breeze, less than nine hours after I left my house.

I only stayed at the shore for a few minutes—padded shorts would have changed my attitude about the 10-mile ride back to town—just long enough to snap a few pictures and dip a toe in the water.

I really should have lingered, letting the sound of the surf pound out that rumble, whoosh, rumble. 

Easy Riders

Not ready to sit on a saddle for a 60-mile ride to the beach? Earn your spurs with these shorter rides around town:

Esplanade-Waterfront Loop

Both sides of the central Willamette riverfront are great places to ride—so long as it's not a sunny Saturday or Sunday. The Eastbank Esplanade is the better ride, generally less crowded as it goes over a unique 1,200-foot floating walkway while offering views of downtown and the West Hills. The westside path, a sidewalk on the edge of Tom McCall Waterfront Park, has better people-watching and easy access to food and drink. Cross the river at the Steel and Hawthorne bridges for an easy 2.5-mile loop you can finish in about half an hour.

Leif Erickson Drive

The 11-mile Leif Erikson Drive was supposed to be a road to swanky homes. Instead, it runs through Forest Park and is open only to bikers, walkers and the occasional park ranger truck. Don't try taking your road slicks up the wide dirt-and-gravel path from Northwest Thurman Street. But if you've got a mountain bike or hybrid, and don't mind dodging a few strollers, it's a wonderful ride.

Springwater Corridor

All but the last two miles of this 21-mile path to Boring are paved with smooth asphalt. Walkers and bikers follow the flat route of an old railroad track across the south edge of town. Oaks Amusement Park, cooling Johnson Creek, a sheep farm that looks to be from the 1800s are along the route. For a shorter trip, ride east to the 205 freeway and you can take the MAX back to the center of town.

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