Seattle & back, ACT II: Oregon coast

First time crossing state boundaries on the 250
Published July 14, 2009
ACT I: California-1 ACT II: Oregon coast ACT III: Washington's wet ACT IV: The birthday ACT V: 101 home

Determined to avoid the previous day’s time crunch, I awoke at 7:30 AM to the gentle pings of Super Mario Galaxy music, showered, and departed the warm hostel. After just a few minutes on the road, I remembered that the pastrami sandwich in Jenner was all I’d eaten the day before and so I stopped for breakfast in Crescent City, parked next to a new KLR loaded with camping gear and a shiny KTM Adventure perched on the adjacent sidewalk.

June 18, 2009

I was a bit apprehensive about leaving the bike’s zippered saddlebags outdoors, even more so as the waitress ushered me to the back of the restaurant, away from windows through which I might observe my baby. But as I seated my spaceman-outfitted self, I caught a view of the Shift jacket in the booth next to me. Conversation with the KLR rider ensued, with a sort of effortless exchange I can’t normally let loose, on the basis that we both ride motorcycles. The shared activity shouldn’t mean much, but it does.

Kawasakis weren’t our only common ground. Turns out he and his buddy (in a sad, four-wheeled truckamathing) were making a trip parallel to my own, having left the arid depression of Fresno to ride/drive the coast into Oregon. They got back on the road while I eyed my Grand Slam breakfast a bit and nursed a couple of cups of coffee, trying to eat what I could (I’m not much for breakfast) before tackling the big day ahead.

Further north, CalTrans flaggers transformed from bearded men type into pinup-hot femmes who in these distant parts must not have the job options of a city where a pretty face, male or female, will net at least a desk job. Or maybe they enjoy the sun. A short charge forward and I’d escaped over the border, out of Commiefornia and into the promised land of the free (from sales tax), Oregon.

First thing that’s different: Oregon’s speed limit signs have funny font. And they’ve got numbers lower than one might hope for. I’d averaged my usual 50-something mpg on California roads, but through Oregon I was pumping just barely over two gallons of gas per fill with 130-150 miles between stops. I guess there’s a silver lining. And the scenery is rather nice.

I didn’t expect the Oregon coast to differ much from California’s, but even just north of the border it’s unique in its colors, painted in pastels from ocean to endless sky. I rolled into a sprawling turnout to take in the view, sharing it with strangers also snatched from their travels by the impossible beauty. For the first time in nearly 500 miles on the bike, I felt far from home. San Francisco, the office, bills, forgotten responsibilities that didn’t follow me here.

Early into Coos County, signs for the Bandon Dunes, decorated with ATV and dirt bike silhouettes, tempted me to consider another way to spend the day riding. But I had to be in Eugene before nightfall, or I’d never infiltrate Washington in time to help ease a friend into the crotchety years of his life (he turned thirty), so I pushed on. Stopped for coffee and a smoothie at the best-named brew house probably in the world–Brewed Awakenings–and devoured the last bit of my coastal miles before turning east on OR-38.

Quite literally just before the turnoff for OR-38, a sign for homemade beef jerky drew me off course. I may have also needed a pee. Store-bought jerky is a bit of a letdown after growing up with parents in charge of a food dehydrator, and certainly the rugged peoples of the rugged state of Oregon know how to prepare their meats.

Er, it was very good jerky. And then I took OR-38, for the first time in over twenty-four hours turning away from the coast to head inland. The highway snakes in unison with the Umpqua River, a water so still I wondered if I’d taken a wrong turn down a road that lines a lake. It’s not the bendiest stretch of asphalt, but the pervasive greenery and utter feeling of isolation held my interest until finally meeting with the great freeway I’d been avoiding with my coastal route.

Seattle, Portland, Sacramento, Los Angeles and San Diego, all considerable West Coast cities and each connected to the other by the dull, life-draining roll of Interstate 5. Were I in a hurry to reach Washington from San Francisco, and in no particular want of preserving my mental faculties, I’d cruise east from the Bay Area, hit I-5 north of Tracy, and switch off my brain for some fifteen hours of the most tedious road not in Nebraska. There are flashes of scenic brilliance as I-5 skirts Mount Shasta. Not worth it. But I’d have to endure some stretch of the beast to reach my night’s bed at a Eugene hostel. Like a Band-Aid, rip it off in one quick go to cinch the pain.

I met a man who, with a straight face, introduced himself as ‘Jag’

Eugene, Oregon is “eclectic” according to Wikipedia, probably so written by someone who lives there. To folks that don’t inhabit Eugene, it’s a bit weird and I didn’t know it until I did some walking around the Whiteaker neighborhood of my hostel. Pulled out my phone to search for coffee and I didn’t get Starbucks or Tully’s but Wandering Goat, a solitary business amid low-income residential alleys and rail lines. I’ve grown jaded to the crazies of San Francisco, but Eugene’s beatniks are harder to ignore; they make a connection, they are–gasp–friendly and I’ll admit the vibe was vaguely awkward for me. Fortunately, as it turns out in many cases, weird was good, and the Wandering Goat’s latte is easily the best brew I’ve had in years. Plus, the barista scribbled shrubbery in my foam, which I saved for the final sips.

The hostel’s inhabitants proved a bit eclectic, too. I met a Brit who flew to southern California and hoofed his way to central Oregon (he wasn’t done walking). I met a man who, with a straight face, introduced himself as “Jag.” And in the morning, as I prepared to leave, I chatted with the rider of a Can-Am Spyder who picked his ride after a doctor told him that a bad hip would keep him off his Gold Wing. Oh Eugene, I won’t forget you.