This is like the Seattle to Portland (STP), except that it is much more beautiful. Specifically, S=Spanaway, t=to, C=Chehalis, R=Raymond, A=Astoria, and P=Portland. I intend to do this is 4-½ days, and then hop the train back to Tacoma.
Day 1—Spanaway to Chehalis (Monday 23APRIL)
The weather started out cool, but absolutely beautiful. I was going to start riding right from home, but Betsy suggested that riding through Puyallup would be the worst part of the entire adventure, and so she dropped me off where the Mountain Highway splits off from the Pacific Highway. The ride was fantastic, and I stayed in a cheap but nice hotel a mile off of route in Chehalis. A bikes-forbidden bridge in Centralia forced me to take a bike lane used by the STP but which parallels I-5, not long, but not real nice with the freeway traffic adjacent to you. I suddenly realized that this is why the ACA has some strange routing on their Pacific Coast route.
Day 2—Chehalis to Bruceport County Park (Tuesday 24APRIL)
This was a long but beautiful ride, following a previous rail bed, now called the Willapa Hills Trail. The first few miles were paved, but then turned to gravel. At first, the gravel was nicely packed and easy to ride on. Later, it began to turn into loose gravel. I stayed on the gravel road most of the way to Pe Ell, owing to the beauty, solitude, and ease of travel on that road. Even once I was on paved road, it was never uncomfortable in spite of occasional logging trucks, owing to a broad shoulder on the road. There was a climb past Pe Ell before dropping down to Raymond. All along the way, I could see the rail bed of the trail waiting to some day be paved. There were a lot of large meadows occupied by farms. I didn’t notice any appealing restaurants in Raymond, so rode on to South Bend on a paved bicycle path, where I stopped for lunch at a cheap Chinese restaurant. The food was ok but it gave me the shits. Fortunately, the Bruceport campground was only six mostly easy miles on roads with wide shoulders. This was a relatively easy day which was warm enough to ride in shirtsleeves. The weather is predicted to be warm without rain the next few days, which is VERY odd for the Northwest.
View of stream along the trail
Start of the Willapa Hills Trail
View of Willapa Bay from camp
Day 3—BCP to Astoria (Wednesday 25APRIL)
Somehow, I always sleep wonderfully in a tent, and pretty much sawed logs all night. This was the first time this year I woke up in a tent and actually felt warm, even though the temperature was in the low 50s. Breakfast consisted of two granola bars and two cups of coffee, and I was off by 7:31. The day was absolutely glorious, and on reaching the junction to highway 4, 20 miles into the ride, decided to take a longer course and stay on highway 101. The road had mostly excellent shoulders for riding, though once getting to highway 101 past Ilwaco, I had to contend with very busy traffic and occasional poor shoulders. Crossing the Astoria-Meckler bridge wasn’t quite as bad as I had imagined. The shoulders were only about 12 inches and sometimes a bit cluttered with debris, but I never felt uncomfortable, as the traffic wasn’t too heavy. I would have liked to ride on, but there wasn’t any convenient places to stop without making it an unduly long day, so I terminated the ride at a cheap hotel just beside the off ramp of the bridge. Dinner was at a brewery, which had an incredibly excellent tasting lager beer. The day remained beautiful, and the weather report notes that tomorrow will also be nice. This portion of the ride was unbelievably beautiful and needs to be counted as a prime alternate for the Pacific Coast route, going from Elma to Montasano and then south on 101 to Raymond.
Broad expanses of meadow heading toward Astoria
Wildlife sanctuary along 101 in Washington
First view of the Astoria-Megler bridge
View of bridge from my hotel
An awesome beer at a brewery in Astoria.
Day 4—Astoria to Stub Stewart State Park (Thursday 26APRIL)
Today was an early start, owing to a long climb 11 miles into the ride. The hotel did not have a coffee maker in the room, and didn’t start serving coffee until 7am, so I used my camp stove to make coffee in the room! The weather started as quite foggy, eventually turning into a hot cloudless day. Getting up over the pass out of Astoria was a little bit easier than anticipated, and the remainder of the ride was short roller coaster hills or flat, with occasionally needing to dodge lumber trucks. In both directions, the ride was beautified with babbling brooks. For brother Dennis’ sake, as I passed through the town of Mist I kept special watch for clandestine government activity, since Google had perhaps once blacked out a small area around Mist, though that it now no longer true. There was nothing but farms and logging activity. Perhaps a silo in a farmyard 1 km west of Mist was a secret missile silo, but I doubt it. I arrived in Vernonia just a little after 1pm and had lunch there before jumping on the start of the Banks-Vernonia trail, a paved bicycle path 22 miles long, mostly nice, but with occasional 10% grade, and often torn up by roots. Fortunately, the trail was short to camp, and I was able to easily settle in for the night. The campsite was quite primitive, but it didn’t matter, since I knew that only 22 miles away, I would be in Hillsboro, and able to hop the MAX to the Union Station to ride Amtrak home. Oddly, though in remote woods, I was able to get excellent phone reception to talk with Betsy. It is supposed to rain tomorrow, so I will probably get an early start into Portland.
A VERY delightful view of the summit of a long climb
The land around the town of Mist. Somewhere in those hills is HIGHLY secretive government projects
Day 5—SSSP to Hillsboro, and then home (Friday 27APRIL)
I woke up anticipating rain. It was very misty, which turned into a misty rain as the morning got on. I got up slightly earlier than usual, packed everything including taking the tent down, had a cup of coffee with a granola bar, and then hit the trail before 7am. The misty rain became a fine persistent drizzle, and cold. It took me 2 hours to reach the Hillsboro MAX Station, and then another hour on the blue line to downtown Portland, and yet another half mile of bicycling from the Chinatown MAX stop to the train station. Sitting on the MAX, I didn’t realize how cold one got, when wet and not pedaling. Thankfully, the Amtrak people were very friendly and I was able to get a ticket for 12 o’clock noon back to Tacoma. I changed my clothes, felt warm and comfortable once again, and gave Betsy a heads up that I would be arriving back home sooner than expected. The train ride was delightful. I love taking Amtrak, especially since they now make it so easy to take bicycles.
A bridge on the lower Banks-Vernonia trail
Union station in Portland
This was an awesome five day loop that turned out better than I ever could have anticipated. I’ve been doing cycle touring for a number of years now, but each time I hop on the bicycle I again feel like an amateur. My style is constantly changing. What has helped the most is the ability to get out alone in order to learn what works and what doesn’t work. All my other riding has been with Russ, Jon, or with the ACA, and I am constantly learning and unlearning things. Example: with Jon, our bread was attacked overnight by chipmunks, so I started using a soft bear bag. This ended up being too heavy on the TransAm, and sent it home a week later. This trip, I am grasping that you don’t need to carry a lot of food along (especially bread), unless there truly is nowhere to pick up food. So, a few more details…
- I hate to cook on the road, and always appreciate once a day making a formal restaurant stop, if possible. If not, prepared foods that can be heated in the pouch in boiling water seems to work best. As mentioned above, it is best to carry minimal food.
- I brought along a down puffy (coat) instead of my usual fleece coat. It was great for camp when there was no rain, but awful for rain or misty weather. A suitable coat needs to be dual-purposed, and work as insulation on the bike in really cold weather. The fleece coat worked well for this on my failed TransAm when I was freezing to death, since it stayed warm even while I was sweating on the bike. A down puffy will not serve this purpose. I prefer the comfort and packability of the down coat, but need a better solution for rain.
- Friends… yes, I would enjoy the bike rides much more with friends. There was a perfect example on this trip, where I bypassed Pacific Beach and Ilwaco. If a friend were along, there would have been no problem going the extra two miles and enjoying lunch on the beach in Ilwaco.
- Weight is a serious issue that I need to reduce. There is a fine balance between being prepared and being over-prepared. It’s just that at the end of the day, I would be so much happier with less weight on the bike. It would be wonderful to have life reduced down to the PCT backpack standard base weight of under 18 lb. I have just a week to work on this, since in 10 or so days, Russ and I head out to Colorado to work on a portion of the TransAm from Cañon City (Denver) to Missoula (Whitefish), taking Amtrak both directions to and from home.