Biking The Oregon Coast (Part 1): From Florence to Lincoln City

I had planned on starting from Eugene but there wasn’t a place to sleep. Even the Wal-Mart was not an option. No overnight parking, a sign said. I kept driving west towards the coast. The first town off the 101 was Florence. I parked by the beach and slept in the car, the windows down so I could hear the wind and sea outside.

I woke up as the fog was clearing, changed into a swimsuit and ran up the dunes that separated me from the sea. I jumped into the ocean and got out right away. It was low 50’s in the water and not much warmer outside. I got back into the car. I wasn’t sure if I was going to start biking that day, so I had spent a couple hours trying unsuccessfully to do some writing in the library. When I finally decided to get going, it was almost noon, and the wind had picked up in earnest. It usually started about 10 in the morning. I wanted to bike down to the California state line or up to the Washington state line. Washington was further, and I had a few days, so I headed north.

I parked the car and got my panniers ready in a Fred Myers. I saw signs here that also said No Overnight Parking, but I thought I’d risk it. There wasn’t any better place to park. I was feeling somewhat paranoid. I didn’t know anyone, and I just wanted to get on the road. I didn’t want anyone to pull up and ask me what I was doing or tell me that there was no overnight parking here. Usually, I enjoy the feeling of being a stranger, unknown and passing through, but only when I’m actually passing through. Be in the same place for too long and you might start to get recognized! Better to go unrecognized. Invisibility has always been the most desirable superpower to me. As a traveler, invisibility comes naturally. You blend in on the outside while still remaining unblended on the inside. Actually, often times you don’t blend in on the outside. The weight on the back of my bike would clearly distinguish me as an outsider. Very well, an outsider is usually what I prefer to be.

I quickly threw in some food and clothes in the panniers, not thinking all that much about just what I was throwing in, loaded on the tarp and sleeping pad, checked for a second to see if I had everything, and started pedaling. It was about noon, and I moved slowly for the first few miles, the same way I moved for most of the journey north. I hadn’t reckoned with the wind, which was strong and blowing directly into my face. I would also have to get used to the weight, which was 60 pounds at the least and probably more. Hunter Thompson writes in The Rum Diary, “I had a flash of something I hadn’t felt since my first months in Europe—a mixture of ignorance and a loose, ‘what the hell’ kind of confidence that comes on a man when the wind picks up and he begins to move in a hard straight line toward an unknown horizon.”

This is how I felt. Instead of despairing over the wind, I felt reckless, adventurous. I was pedaling against a powerful force; the wind was brutal, punishing, unforgiving, and indifferent to all comers. So be it. I would rather make my way against the indifferent wind along the rocky splendor of the Oregon Coast than try to make some legal tender by going up the actively cruel ladder of human production and consumption.

The miles were hard-earned from the get-go. Highway 101 climbs out of Florence before it drops down to Yachats. So I climbed. It took me a long time to get to Yachats, maybe three hours to go the 24 miles, maybe more. I realized in my paranoid rushing in the Fred Myers parking lot, I had forgotten a phone charger. I wanted to keep my phone charged in case I decided to go a different route or to look up things to do in the towns I passed through.

John owned the ramshackle electronic shop in Yachats, cords and wires all over the place. He only took cash. ‘The grocery store gives cash back,’ he told me. ‘You can pick up a snickers.’ I realized that was exactly what I craved, so I went to the grocery store next door, picked up two snickers and an espresso drink. It was a habit I would continue through the four-day trip, during which I ate horribly. Then I went back and talked with John about the wind. That was really the only thing on my mind. The wind has that way about it, clearing the mind of anything else but itself, the force you’re biking into. John told me that the difference in temperature between the coast and the inland was as much as forty degrees this day. It stayed that way into the weekend. 60-65 on the coast, close to 100 inland. Apparently, this difference was the cause of the ferocious wind, my brutal enemy on the way north and my good dear friend on the way south. He said some other things but my mind deemed them too scientific to understand.

I wished him good health (he was just getting over a flu) and then again it was to the road. I had gotten over one mighty hilly section and for a while the terrain was relatively flat. I had passed one woman a few miles before Yachats who looked like she was in utter despair, her head in her hands on the side of the road. I felt like if I stopped it would be a while before I continued, so I didn’t stop and give her the support I couldn’t have given her anyways. Now there were bikers going the other way, with the wind, looking exuberant and light. The opposite of me. They would wave happily at me and I would grimly put up a hand. There were many of them going the other way, but in my days on the road, that one woman in despair was the only one I saw going north against the wind.

I had driven this route the previous December, when I was heading from Alaska, where I had spent the fall with my cousins, to Arizona, where I was going to start college. I remembered staying the night at the Dublin House in Yachats and then getting off the 101 the next morning, driving to Eugene and getting on the I-5. Back then, somewhere north of Florence and south of Lincoln City, somewhere around where I was biking now, I had jumped into the ocean, though both the water and the outside temperature were in the 40’s. I had written this a few weeks afterwards,

“There was a definite feeling, on this December day on the Oregon shore, that I was not an important part of this scene in any way. Whether I or anyone else was here, the sea would remain, sometimes calm and sometimes violent, the waves would crash, the islands of rock and trees would stand. It was a reassuring reminder, the patient indifference of the lively inhuman elements.

In the summer, I’m sure the beach would have swarmed with men and women and children. But today it was empty of people and full of life. I wasn’t distracted by bathers and surfers, and I was able, when I paused for a few moments before I got to the car, to appreciate the beauty that surrounded me—the massive rock islands that stood to the south, the light Irish drizzle that fell from the low grey sky, the seagulls that soared north with the coastal winds. The realization that I was irrelevant to the scene was a simple one, but it freed me from the narrowing self-absorption that comes from driving alone, one of many poor souls detained in cars on the endless road, with only billboards for company, brought me back to the larger open world around me, the sands and trees and sea, including me but not requiring my presence.”

more oregon coast

oregon coast

The self-absorption that driving brings does not come as much when biking. Because cycling is a physical struggle, the mind has no time to sink into self-pity or self-absorption. It must be in tune with the body, focused on pushing forward. When the body is not moving, the mind is free to do what it pleases, to be absorbed with itself and unresponsive to the outside world. Biking allows for another type of absorption, an absorption in movement and activity. On the coast, I was able to be present and responsive to the world of rock and sea and sky and trees. I was forced to be present; I could not help but be where I was. If my mind drifted at all, the biking would quickly become more difficult. The body needed the mind in order to persevere. The coastal winds added another element that required even greater presence. To ride north on the Oregon coast in the summer is a long and arduous lesson in patience and acceptance. I had to let go of any idea of myself as strong, as physically powerful. I was no match for the wind. To work with the wind at all I had to go slowly. There was no other way. I had to put my head down and endure the pain without expending unnecessary energy.

I continued on into the night. Each time I wanted to stop for the night, I told myself to keep on for just a few more miles. Who knows why? I simply wanted to keep going.

oregon sunset

I was also in a stretch without many places to camp for the night. Newport was fifty miles from Florence and Lincoln City was eighty. Between the two, I don’t remember seeing any places to camp other than RV campgrounds, where tent sites are exorbitant, up to $40 a night. One of my rules of the road is never paying to sleep if I can help it. If I do have to pay, the maximum price I am willing to spend is $6, the price of a tent site in the national forest and state park campgrounds. I was also riding through a busy stretch. This first day on the road was a Thursday but it might just as well have been a weekend day. The highway stayed like this all the way up from Florence to the Washington State line and back again. The noise was at times unbearable for me, and so I put in headphones, diluting my ability to be present. But most of the time, even when I was riding right next to the ocean, I could not hear it or smell it because of the noise and exhaust from the cars. So I listened to Bob Dylan, belting out his Blood on the Tracks album.

“But me I’m still on the road,
Heading for another joint.
We always did feel the same
We just saw it from another point of view
Tangled up in blue”

Or Warren Zevon:

“Gridlock, up ahead
There’s a line of cars as far as I can see
Gridlock, goin’ nowhere
Roll down the window, let me scream”

Finally, past 11, I pulled into a state park in Lincoln City, about eighty miles from where I had started in Florence.

oregon caost sunset

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