Linda inspects a covered bridge near Cottage Grove.
Between Millpond Campground and the summit of Huckleberry Mt. lie 15 miles of climbing. It’s early. We left camp about 6:40 to beat the heat though this day’s ride would only be 53 miles.
The pitch is 6 or 7 percent here. I’m passing people. It’s not a race. No one cares. It’s the final day of seven and there’s no premium for being early. Not even a choice camping site to be claimed.
The pitch is 6 or 7 but my heart rate is falling. At 140 I’m comfortable, remembering to spin, to keep the bike in an easy gear, reach my knees to the handlebars and then dive my toes down and back. If I forget and push straight down, pedaling is harder. So I’m riding at recovery rate and passing people. How wonderful to be strong and fit on this final day.
But no one cares. Or almost no one. For somewhere behind me rides John on a mt. bike outfitted with slicks, fenders and a big clunky outboard handlebar mirror. John cares. I know ‘cause he’s already passed me once.
Doing multi-day supported bicycle touring brings out all sorts of cyclists including the Lindas
Linda doing what Lindas do. Site-see even in the fog.
and the Peters.
Peter will hate my using this photo 'cause it means I beat him to the top of this hill."
We all enjoy the scenery which has been nearly unrelieved in its primeval rain-forest way all week. We all enjoy being on the bike, moving swiftly and easily over smooth surfaces when we can find them, complaining a bit over the many chip-sealed surfaces we have had this trip. These tours bring us together to share the accomplishment and experience the world in a way you can’t match with a motor, not even a motorcycle. Lindas like my wife are all about the site-seeing and the chatting. Peters like Peter LaPort of Portland love to chat but on the road they hate to stop, hate to be passed. For Peters, it’s the challenge, the celebration of being alive and capable.
We are mostly middle aged to older folks with grown families and enough time and money for a week of cycling. The oldest this trip is 78. But don’t let that fool you. Some of these wiry, grizzled, leathery knots of muscle will leave you standing still, thighs quivering.
The youngest is a girl of 16 with her father. But don’t let her age fool you either. She has ridden RAMROD twice. Can you say that?
Why do we ride? For me it’s the rhythm of the road, the spin to the top of a hill, the swift curving descent around a deep banked corner only to discover I’m in my drops, spinning easily. The hill in front of me fails to intimidate. Sweeter still when another rider struggles as the whoosh whoosh of my tires sweeps by.
Okay, maybe I am a Peter. I don’t like to stop when I’m in the zone.
The Lindas are another cyclist altogether. Scenery takes second place only to socializing. She starts out with the same lame questions. Where are you from? Have you done OBR before? But before she’s done, she’s made a new friend and shared quilting stories and other intimacies. And who’s to say she hasn’t enjoyed the ride as much as I’ve enjoyed my friendly challenge with John riding up Huckleberry Mt?
And Peters are social as well. LaPorte seems to know everyone and like Linda remembers them from year to year. I’m not alone, though. I find my own riding companions such as the couple from Walla Walla with whom I rode one day on 2007’s WBR. Phil is strong on the hills and Dale nearly as strong. We fall in together several days on this trip.
And there’s Brian from Vancouver, BC. He passed me on a descent on Sunday in the mountains. I caught him, hung on to his wheel for a bit and then we paced each other to the top for several miles forming a bond of mutual respect and friendship over a few shared miles and challenging climbs.
Or, the other Linda and her friend and triathlon training partner, Walter, whom I met and rode with on Sunday and never saw again.
Or the girl who whipped quickly by us on a slight incline we had persuaded ourselves was going to become another 12 percent climb just around the bend. Phil and I let her go, but when I saw that no climb loomed, I picked up my pace. She had become a target. Perhaps I am a Peter.
I caught her too, miles on down the road and warned her “If I blow up on the climb, it will be your fault.” She didn’t slow down any and when we passed another cyclist, she pedaled off when I slowed to talk. I caught her again just before we left the highway and began the steep ascent to Millpond Campground. Slipping into granny, I wheezed, “This isn’t what they meant by a five mile climb to camp is it?” She said it was and hit it harder. “I’ll back off if you will,” I offered but she wasn’t having it. We traded leads for most of the climb until she escaped me on a downhill when we were slowed by construction. In camp we complimented each other’s strength. I was careful not to say “for a girl.” She was clearly stronger than most of the men on this ride.
Or the tall cyclist who passed me as I spoke with a local cyclists on the layover day. I caught him and stayed with him until the sweat running in my eyes forced me to stop. He was moving faster than I was comfortable with that afternoon, but on Thursday I found myself sharing a three man pace line into Powers with him.
And of course, there’s John, who in 2007 dropped me badly on Spokane’s Double Trouble standing up on his mountain bike and just pulling away. Sure I’d pace lined with him for a number of miles, but I was at my limit that day and John wasn’t. So today when he slipped by on the lower, flatter segment of the last day’s climb, I picked up my pace just a little.
Riding strong, feeling the road, feeling the spin, I caught him. My plan hadn’t been to pass him but rather to ride along with him, but the first of the steep climbs began just as I rode up beside him and a SAG vehicle appeared behind us. I spun around and stayed ahead, leaving him behind. I couldn’t see him in my mirror and eventually let my pace fall back and my heart rate recover. And then there he was swinging around me.
“There you are,” I complained.
“Here I are,” he replied.
“Now I’ll have to decide whether I want to work harder,” I complained.
“I had to make that decision when you passed me,” he said.
I hung onto his wheel as we climbed a steeper section and then spun up the cadence and pulled away again for a few miles. We were both passing everyone we saw.
But I couldn’t shake him this time. Soon he was back, standing up and sitting only when he wanted to drink. We paced one another until my achilles heal began to worry me—sweat in the eyes. I had a wash cloth in my pocket to wipe my brow and I did so several times, but it is tough to do when you are maintaining near maximum heart rate. I began to wonder If I’d be able to stay with him at all let alone find the strength to surge around him at the top.
My computer told me we had a mile to go—could I make it? But what’s this. John’s stopping? The rest stop is a mile short of the top. “I hope we don’t have to do that again today,” I complemented him.
The rider I'm calling John.
At the stop he explained he’s a commuter with a 500 ft, 14% climb every day to get home. He hadn’t even used his lowest gear. And he has the nerve to bring that commuter bike with its fenders out on this tour and beat us all up. Hope he doesn’t buy a road bike.
We rode across the top together and separated on the descent. At the bottom, we formed a 3-man pace line to ride back into Cottage Grove.
Peters have social experiences even if they are not like those the Lindas have.
This route in south western Oregon beats any other tour I’ve taken for beauty and that include the dramatic vistas of Glacier/Waterton and Yellowstone/Grand Tetons. Starting in Cottage Grove on I-5, Linda and I found the recommended Covered Bridge tour on the Row River Trail and put in 26 miles before the tour began. Sunday’s 90 mile ride across the coastal range to Reedsport on the coast was the prettiest 90 miles I can imagine. Frost was talking of Maine when he said “These woods are lovely , dark, and deep,” but he could just have well meant the old-growth forests of cedars that stretched their branches over roads scarcely wider than bike paths.
Such roads in Eastern Washington and Idaho would never be paved and accessible only to mt. bikers. But here one rides through dark forests, accented by brilliant sunshine creating deep contrasts. Occasionally the canopy grows so close together around a bend it becomes a tunnel of darkness. Dropping out of the mountains I expected agriculture but found instead a leisurely descent along the Smith River.
Monday’s ride along the coast to Bandon began on 101 though with wide shoulders. The fog and mist obscured any views of the ocean or the lighthouse we visited and the cannery smells were unpleasant. But you couldn’t call this ugly country. Haystack rocks loomed up out of sandy beaches and when the fog lifted ocean views opened up and always dark forests.
OBR does a wonderful job of finding campsites but they can’t control the weather. Bandon was our layover day. Put up your tent once for two days. You can ride on the lavover day or “rest your legs” by walking all over little touristy shops. But when we arrived in Bandon, the wind was blowing, the campsite had no grass and little protection from the wind and promised to only be colder. Linda called a motel about half a mile away and we enjoyed a pool and hot-tub for two nights. Suckers.
The layover day ride took us once more into dark, primeval forests though we did encounter a number of smelly dairy operations back near town as well as a couple of small communities. The ride to Powers covered some of the same ground and despite a few short climbs, was the easiest day of riding and finished with several gorgeous miles and a camp site complete with lake and yet I never saw a mosquito.
From Powers to Riddle was the fabled 7,000 foot climbing day. Its two extended climbs again took us through dark green forests. The worst descent of the ride came as a surprise to me. I guess I hadn’t been listening. Several miles of 12% descent heated up the brakes and made me stop. Two riders failed to make a turn and took a tour of an ER but both recovered though not to ride again this trip. The last 20 miles into Riddle, however, proved least scenic. It should have been a descent but head winds spoiled that and now the weather was heating up. Linda found a couple of swimming holes in the river along the way to cool off in. Lots of folks joined her.
Riddle to Millpond campground presented the two worst climbs of the trip, 12% and pretty much back to back. Lots of pushing. These hills were worse than anything we had done the day before. But we were rewarded with the best camping of the trip at Millpond Campground. It is a day use facility but OBR had gotten permission for tent camping and we pretty much had the place to ourselves including the best swimming hole complete with a rock for jumping.
And then the last day with the 15 mile climb and 35 mile descent. Again, the climb and descent including right into Cottage Grove were through what anywhere else would have had to have been a park. Sheer unrelieved beauty. I have some friends who seem to like deserts and rocks.. I’m sorry to report not one single desert vista in 8 days.
Back in Cottage Grove, John shook my hand. “You sure upped the intensity,” he said. Does that mean he’s bringing his road bike next year?
See more photos at Flickr.