Photo by Jason DeVarennes

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Oregon - To Waldport

Our plans for the second part of our Oregon holiday were somewhat fast and loose. Before the trip, we had talked about getting out to the coast as well as making our way to Eugene at some point, but otherwise didn't really have any firm plans.

This is typical for us when we tour on our own. Other folks might start out with two weeks worth of motel reservations and pre-planned routes, with detailed research about specific landmarks along the way. We just tend to make it up on the fly, rarely planning more than one or maybe two days at a time. With this flexibility, when we stumble upon something interesting, we can easily change things up to take in a new road, interesting village or cool looking hostel. This approach would drive some people crazy, and admittedly has occasionally resulted in some scurrying to find accommodation, but more often than not, we have discovered some amazing places that we might have otherwise missed.

One thing that had made the planned list for this trip was something that had captured John's attention a while back, the Oregon Coast Gravel Epic. The actual event was held a few weeks before our trip, but we found GPS tracks of the route online. Since the route started in Waldport, my task for this day was to get us from Corvallis to Waldport, so we could ride the epic route the following day.

The obvious route out was along a numbered main road, but having an aversion to main roads, we naturally sought out a quieter one, with hopes of finding some nice gravel roads to sate our dirt appetite.

Now, as more and more maps and routes are available digitally and online, it's getting easier to find routes and sometimes it is tempting to just download and follow a track, making use of local knowledge, as it were. However, it isn't always a good idea to blindly follow a route found on Strava or RWGPS, since some folks like riding down busy main roads or, at the other extreme, bushwhacking through overgrown trails. Also, we have learned the hard way that sometimes a road found on a digital map is pure fantasy.

Anyway, I've had lots of practice over the years coming up with interesting and challenging routes, finding gravel when we want it, or avoiding it if we don't. I have a pretty good track record, with only a few times where we've either had to turn back or bushwhack, or conversely have found ourselves on an unpleasant busy road. We have found that the National Forest maps are invaluable for helping to determine whether a road shown on a digital map is paved, gravel or actually a hiking trail. They have much more detail than state or county maps, and tend to cover areas where we like to ride. As we travel around in different places, we are amassing a large collection of forestry maps! It's also really handy to unfold a paper map to have a big picture, while still being able to see roads - not something easily done on a tiny laptop or GPS. All this to say, when planning routes in unfamiliar areas I use both paper and digital maps.

After looking through various routes on RWGPS and Strava heatmaps, I stumbled upon the Willamette Gran Fondo route starting near Corvallis. Looking at the various uploads for the Gran Fondo, it took me a while to realize this was actually an out and back route, turning back well short of our destination on the coast. Since this route didn't go all the way to the coast, I cobbled together a route using roads from both the Gran Fondo and the Epic, with some previously uncharted sections connecting the two routes. Now I will point out that one of our big goals for the week was to take in lots of quiet and scenic dirt and gravel roads. However mountain bike trails weren't part of the plan. The question loomed: Had I picked actual roads? Would there be bushwhacking?
For the convenience of air (and train) travel, we had brought S&S coupled bikes. David was riding John's coupled Seven Axiom with 700X32mm tires. Now while John's Evergreen might have been slightly better for the gravel roads since it can take much bigger tires than the Axiom, it lacks the couplers that greatly simplify both flying and getting to and from the airport. Prior to getting the Evergreen, John had taken the Axiom on many rough dirt and gravel adventures, so we knew it would be fine for this one.

John and I were riding our new coupled Co-Motion tandem with super plush 650BX42 tires, designed perfectly for the types of gravel we'd find on the forest roads. David's 32mm tires, while well suited for dirt roads, with slightly less volume than those on the tandem, would likely prevent him from bombing the descents at the same speed as the tandem. But that's probably the case regardless of tire size.

Now since Phil wasn't around to carry all our supplies, we had to manage on our own. The fine folks at Oveja Negra made us an awesome custom frame bag to fit the large open area in the rear section of the tandem. We were very excited by the new open frame design on this tandem. It meant one less tube, two fewer couplers, and this massive space that could house a frame bag.

We used a combination of this large custom frame bag in the rear along with a smaller stock frame bag in the front, also from Oveja Negra, a Dill Pickle handlebar bag and a giant Revelate Viscacha saddle bag to carry all the gear for the two of us for the week. David also had a Dill Pickle bar bag, a nice lightweight, completely waterproof set of panniers from Arkel and a bright orange Oveja Negra seat bag, which, while amazingly visible, sadly earned him the nickname of baboon butt at some point during the week!

Some eagle eyed readers noticed that frame bag in previous posts and asked a few questions about it, so here's a bit more info.   

We were absolutely thrilled with the Oveja Negra frame bag. It was stable and silent, not having any of the rattles or movement one often gets from panniers. It also made the tandem feel even faster on descents than ever - more weight without additional frontal area. And despite the large side area, the tandem seemed much more stable (even in crosswinds) than when we've used panniers. Having the weight within the frame eliminated any tail-wagging-the-dog issues.

I have to confess, though, that due to some poor planning and communication, we only got the new tandem the day before flying (do as we say and not as we do!) and hadn't had any time to try out the new bag on the actual bike before the trip. We ordered the frame and the bag at the same time. Since we didn't yet have the bike when we ordered the custom bag, Co-Motion were kind enough to give us detailed measurements which we sent to Oveja Negra. They then made the bag - which exudes top-notch construction - precisely to our specs and shipped it to us several weeks before the trip. This gave us time to at least check out capacity, even if we didn't have a bike to put it on. Once we had a chance to put it into actual use, we discovered a few minor issues in our design. We'll use the lessons we learned to spec a Rev-2 bag.

Internally, the bag has two sections (top and bottom) , making it potentially easier to keep stuff organized.  For Rev-2, we will specify the bottom section be narrow enough to completely clear the timing belt. We learned quickly not to over stuff the bottom section, otherwise the Gates timing belt would rub the bag. Fortunately, the belt didn't wear through the bag on this trip. I suspect a chain might have been more of a problem, and would certainly have left more of a mark.

The other change we will make is to eliminate the space we requested for the water bottles and just put a Camelbak-type bladder into the bag - as Oveja Negra had actually suggested. Even using side mount bottle cages, I simply could not get the bottles in and out. John would drink and then pass back the bottle back for me to take a swig.  Once his bottles were dry, we'd stop and trade them for the full bottles in the back. Eliminating the space for bottles will give the bag more capacity and allow us to add more attachment (and tensioning) points. That said, we can't emphasis how rock solid this bag was, something which was especially noticeable out of the saddle.

One custom detail that we requested and which worked out really well, was a cutout section in the top of the bag, under the top tube. This created a hand-hold position, something which was useful when parking the tandem and crucial when portaging across a culvert, more of which below.

We haven't gotten around to ordering the new bag yet, but we will soon. And I'll repeat that Oveja Negra made the bag exactly to our specs., but real-world use caused us to refine our design. Since I'd received some questions based on the photos, I wanted to at least include some details about our experience and the revisions we plan to make.

So with all that said, let's go for a bike ride.

After filling up with omelets and sampling espresso at a couple of different coffee shops in Corvallis, we made our way to a grocery store to pick up lunch and snacks for our journey into the unknown. While John and David were in the grocery, I was outside keeping an eye on bikes and booking a place to stay in Waldport. I'd left messages earlier at a couple of places I'd found online and luckily got a call back before we left cell phone range.

Now with plenty of food for the day and a place to sleep for the night, we pointed our bikes west. Our first stop was in a crossroads called Alpine where David had a flat tire. While fixing it, we discovered a split in the sidewall and replaced it with Dave's spare. Uh oh, we were barely out of civilization and had already used one spare tire!

Where the cool kids go.

Maybe it was the excitement of the tire change, but somehow we missed the sign here that said "road closed 15 miles ahead."

However, 10-12 miles later, shortly after passing the parking area for Alsea Falls, we did notice a  "road closed ahead" sign, with no detour mentioned. We pressed on, hoping for the best, since with bikes, one can often get around in places where cars and trucks cannot. Then a truck passed us, and we felt reassured.

But then we came to the construction site, and heard the driver who had just passed us asking the workers about a way around. I heard something about going back 15 miles to where they said there was a "road closed ahead" sign, taking a right and taking the 25 mile detour!

Fortunately, when they saw us on bikes, they actually called out, telling us that we could get through! They said that they were about to take a lunch break and then we could walk through. They even moved some dirt around to provide us a nice path across the culvert!

After scampering across the culvert, we had the road all to ourselves. By then, we were ready for our own lunch, but finding no lay-bys with picnic tables, we just sat on the deserted road.  A short while later this lovely quiet road that we had all to ourselves T'd out onto another road, ending our solitude.

Apparently it can be cool and damp here too.

Still traffic was almost non-existent.

Next up was a road called Lobster Valley Road. The temperature was rising and the sun was intense. We wondered if Lobster Valley was in reference to what would happen if we had no sunscreen. A short while later, in an attempt to cool down, we stopped to dangle our feet in a stream. This is where we discovered why the road is called Lobster Valley!

The source of the name, Lobster Valley

Then we came to our uncharted territory and these roads were divine. So it was looking like I'd picked out a nice route, until we joined the Epic route and found ourselves winching our way up a steep gravel road, making it not just nice, but glorious!

The next descent got a bit exciting. John and I had stopped to take a photo while Dave pressed on. Soon after, a truck came scurrying around a corner toward us at high speed, spraying gravel all around.

A short while later, we caught up to Dave, who told us his guardian angel had saved him, as that same truck was taking up the whole road when he encountered it. So, we barely saw cars all day, and then this idiot came along!

Not long after, we popped out in Yachats where we were very happy to find a grocery. We'd all been out of water for a while, and had also finished off all our snacks. Yachats looked really inviting, but silly me, I had booked a place 10 miles north in Waldport, so after our brief snack, we began our 10 mile slog into the wind.

One bit of advice we had gotten about riding on the Oregon coast at this time of year was to travel north to south. And now we definitively knew why everyone told us this. The headwind was merciless.

We eventually made it up to Waldport, though, found our lodging, then found dinner and turned in for the night, since the next day was to be epic !

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