Riding Down From Oregon to California

Get on Your Bike and Ride – The Pacific Coast Highway

By Kara Rowley

Earning the views
Earning the views. Photos by Kara Rowley

I have recently discovered bicycle touring and I am a convert for life. I have always loved my bike — getting around town feels so much less stressful when you can ride a bike and avoid traffic. There are other bonuses. For example, you can park wherever you want and you don’t tend to impulse buy as much (after all, it is harder to transport a big screen TV on a bicycle) –oh, and it’s great for you!

I have been working on riding to work most of the year (and I am from a snowy town in Canada so that is commitment) and thought it might be fun to go on a longer bike ride this summer – like a 800 km bike ride down the Oregon Coast and into Northern California where one can ride amongst the Red Woods.

I was accompanied by a non-cycling, non-camping, non-outdoorsy friend of mine who, I convinced that a great adventure awaited and that cycling down the Pacific Coast Highway was surely something anyone could, and must do, and, in a moment of weakness, she agreed to join me. Oregon seemed like a great place to start.

This state is notoriously bike-friendly, the route is well-used and well-marked and if you get into trouble, there is almost always a town nearby. There are hiker-biker camps along the way (which are truly fabulous), and plenty of other options if you are not the camping type. Oregon is also home to some of the most superb, breath-taking, jaw-dropping scenery in the world and it is the perfect place to slow down your pace and go for a bike ride.

Training is simple

Bicycle touring is 100% environmentally friendly and should define eco-tourism. Training is simple – get on your bike and ride. And other than the obvious hazards like insensitive motorists, it is a safe way to travel. Our trip ended up being 804 km or 500 miles long and we rode for 11days. We started in Astoria, Oregon and ended in Eureka, California.

Day 1 in Oregon
Day 1 in Oregon

If you had to define our style, it would be laid-back. We were riding to experience the sights, sounds, and smells of the coast. Our laid-back attitude should not give you the impression that riding down the coast is a piece of cake; it is hard work and you will be challenged. There are tunnels to go through and bridges to go over as well as windy roads that hug the coastline.

Hills occasionally go up for miles, but then, they also go down for miles, often rewarding you with an unparalleled view and experience of the ocean, sand dunes or 1000 year old trees. As we rode, I often found myself thinking, “Why would anyone drive here?”

Feeling the wind

Riding your bike gives you the chance to think and ponder, and, I believe, experience a little bit of what it is that made the coast the way it is. You feel the wind (on your back, if you are lucky), the rain and the sun. Smells like warm cedar drift up from the trees and mix with the salt-smell of the ocean and intoxicate your senses. There are miles upon miles of deserted beaches to explore, and in a world so full of hustle and bustle, it is an amazing chance to find your place in the world again.

Oregon Coast Bike Route
Oregon Coast Bike Route

The cycling community is vast and varied. On our trip we met school groups of 15 and 16 year olds, recumbent cyclists complete with trailers and dogs, wedding parties, solo riders, musicians packing whole studios, and a 73 year old man touring around with his home-made panniers simply inspiring the bike shorts off of everyone with whom he crossed paths. His best advice: “I’m not too proud to walk my bike up the hills and neither should you be.”

It is an amazing feeling to be immediately inducted into such a community – cycling all day brings out the best in people and reminds us that we can still connect in a real way. Under the stars, by the fire, amongst the trees, near the quiet roar of the ocean, we rediscovered slowness, story-telling, awe, and genuine friendliness. And, if these things do not appeal to you, you can always talk about bike gear!

Finding your ride

California Trees
California Trees

Bicycle touring appeals to all types so there are all kinds of gear that you can get in order to make your ride faster, smoother or fuller (like the guy with the music studio). What you really need is a bike that you like, a comfortable saddle, panniers or a trailer, time, and a positive attitude. I would also recommend a camera. I, a non-camera owning human being, took 765 pictures on my friend’s camera…did I mention the scenery was breath taking?

We bought a great book called, “Bicycling the Pacific Coast” by Vicky Spring and Tom Kirkendal, which my friend poured through before we went. If you were just riding along the Oregon Coast, you really just need the cycling map which has everything you need to know and weighs next to nothing and which the state produces free of charge. And that is it; you are now ready to get on your bike and ride.

We are home now and I just extended my trip to Vancouver Island so that I can go cycle touring there. My friend, you recall, the non-cycling, non-camping, non-outdoorsy type is back at work, riding her bike, buying a tent, and planning her next trip. Writing this article is my way of celebrating an amazing journey and to encourage you to pump up your tires and go for a ride!

Kara RowleyKara Rowley is an elementary school teacher in Calgary, Alberta who loves a challenge and a great adventure!

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