Seattle & back, ACT V: 101 home

Three days on one road and never a dull moment
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

Figures that the day I’d spend leaving Washington would be the only one without a drop of rain. I still hadn’t fully recovered from the aqueous trauma of three days prior, but after passing Olympia without a drop, fears of storming evaporated. Galloping west toward US-12, the bike and I found the summer Washington day I hoped for. Dry, big sky, and sweet-smelling green. The empty road carves an endless, sweeping corridor through towering trees to places with posh names like Aberdeen and Montesano. Compared to the bustle of I-5, it was lonely out west. And for me, loneliness is a fine companion.

June 22, 2009

Though still days from home, I felt a bit of finality as I connected with US-101, turning south toward Oregon. No more poring over maps to plot a route; 101 was the last connection I had to make, as the renowned US highway flows through Washington, Oregon and into my home city of San Francisco (and beyond). Shed a tear for adventure. Now it’s just me and this road.

Washington’s coast is intricately carved, comprised of grayish bays and estuaries that make for a handful of scenic water crossings as 101 meanders south. Most impressive is the four-mile-long Astoria Bridge, which spans the gaping mouth of the Columbia River that separates Washington and Oregon. The bridge stretches forever and skyward, putting me and the Ninja at what felt like cloud-level overlooking the city of Astoria. I’d been riding nearly non-stop for four hours, and so stopped in Astoria for lunch and a couple of parking lot phone calls to family.

The miles along the northern coast of Oregon ticked off without drama. Though I expected my lazy roll through Tillamook would be uneventful (despite the zeal of Fort Bragg’s gas station attendant), the valley town delivered the most peaceful and welcoming view of the trip. Tall mountain ridges guard Tillamook’s eastern flank and contain flat pastures of green and purple hues. The overcast, blue-gray skies broke open enough to let in only streaks of direct sunlight. Forget the cheese and ice cream exports; Tillamook folks keep the best stuff to themselves.

June 23, 2009

I rose early from my hotel in Newport, Oregon to grab coffee with a work acquaintance I’d only ever met online. Left New Port behind and within an hour I was drawn off the bike by the allure of tide pools. Slipping down the sandy hills and squeezing through narrow crevices to reach the beach with my helmet and camera gear in hand proved a delicate operation.

I’d been to Oregon once as a kid, and my favorite memories were made browsing tide pools, examining the ocean’s leftovers: star fish clinging to craggy rocks, trapped sea slugs being gross, sea anemones covered in tiny pebbles and shells, and small fish bouncing between the shrunken boundaries of their temporary cells. The beach I explored off the bike didn’t hold the creature variety of my old memories (it’s never as good as memories), but I didn’t have much time anyway. Back to riding.

A few brief segments of US-101 south of New Port are brilliant. Phenomenal views, outstanding road quality and the first bends worthy of the “twisties” moniker since I left CA-1 days before. The great parts don’t last long, so I made special efforts to guarantee I was past slow drivers in the duller straights. I may have made enemies of a few oversized RVs, and apologies to the plodding Harley group I overtook one bike at a time. Those scarce bends are too good to waste.

I eventually found myself treading familiar territory and stopped for a much-needed lunch at Brewed Awakenings in Bandon. I wanted to hit a couple of photo ops I missed on my rushed ride north, including a shot in front of an uncharacteristically friendly-looking tyrannosaurus in a gravel lot that almost embarrassed me in front of a couple of kids. Back over the California border and I giggled at the “First Chance Liquors” sign that days before read “Last Chance Liquors”–it’s cleverly double-sided, but I wonder what the business license states.

The liquor sign wasn’t the only change. Noticeably, my mood lost its adventurous edge. Home was within reach and part of me just wanted to be there. Six more hours of riding wouldn’t be so bad, right? Except it would. I settled for a submarine sandwich in Klamath and another quaint stay at the hostel in the redwoods.

June 24, 2009

The final stretch. In picking my route, I planned my last day as a bit of a throwaway, a six-hour tear down US-101 which, through California, is nowhere near as scenic or otherwise enjoyable as its more northern portions. The highway peels away from the ocean for a more direct route to San Francisco, forsaking coastal breezes for hot and stuffy mountain passes.

South of Eureka and I had to ignore the turn for CA-1. It’s possibly the best road in the world, but I didn’t have time for it today. My overloaded backpack had taken a toll on my shoulders, and I really just wanted to be home. Just three hours to go.

The bright side to 101? Posted speed limits that occasionally felt too fast for the road if only because the guys in the twenty-year-old mega sedans looked ready to bin it around each bend. Freeway usually bores me, but that blast didn’t. When a BMW GS took to tailing me for an hour, I wished for twistier stuff so I could show him what 250s are made for. But without twisties, he was stuck with the blaring drone of 9,000 rpm through a Two Brothers end can.

I finally lost the GS tail when I rolled into Willits and pulled over for a necessary cold beverage and to peel off the sweat-tinged warm bits of my gear ensemble. Fewer layers made the rest of the hot ride appreciably more bearable, or at least until I got back into The City.

San Francisco greeted me the same way it sent me off–with an embrace of fog, and winds that’d decorated the Great Highway with puddles of sand. Home sweet home. I covered nearly 2,500 miles on my bike in the last eight days. No tire tragedies, no near-misses, nothing to suggest that it wasn’t among the best weeks of my life. I wondered if I’d do it again. I’d be crazy not to.