Cycling the Americas III: Oregon Coastin’
The lettuce leaves crackle between my fingers as I place them atop the two sausages. Oil drips from melted pepper jack cheese and soaks into the bun. Sliced tomato comes next, then a shake of salt and pepper and a liberal dousing of ranch dressing. I settle the bun’s top half in its place. I’m feeling so extravagant, I’ve even toasted the bread a little.
The rain has stopped long enough for me to unload my bicycle, pitch my tent in a hidden spot and cook this veritable Michelin-starred dinner. Wind howls through the branches above my head and the fog, my enemy, sits taunting me from about a hundred metres away on all sides. Surrounding me.
Oregon’s coastline is a mecca for cycle tourists, RV-driving baby boomers (more on them later) and fog. All over the world, little water molecules dream of someday condensing off the Oregon coast and spending a morning, a day or perhaps an entire season hanging over its islands, villages, plunging cliffs and the black-sand beaches wedged in between. On this particular day, as Highway 101 climbed into the mist, wet cliffs rising sharply to my left and falling away into space on my right, I could hear the ocean far below. But in the fog I may as well have been pedalling away in a wet, cold, windowless room. By the late afternoon was shouting at it to “Fuck off!” Shouting at fog.
When a bearded man leaning on a walking frame approaches midway through my first burger to lecture me about how LSD helped him find god and Mormonism, he is lucky to escape with an earful of mild abuse. I could’ve murdered him.
However when the fog does clear, Oregon’s coastline is quite ridiculous. Whales cruised past craggy islands as I ate breakfast at Depoe Bay. Seals gazed up at me with puppy-dog eyes as I rode along the waterfront in Waldport. Those cliffs I mentioned earlier? Imagine careening down a hill at 60km/hr, the road bucking and weaving like a slippery dip, the earth quite literally falling away into nothing just couple of metres to your right and a two-metre groundswell shattering on the rocks below. It’s about as much fun as you can have with your (padded) pants on.
The towns are quite nice too. There are two types of small town in this country, which I will label Types A and B. Type A centres around a two-mile strip of endless Taco Bell, Target, Walmart, Wendy’s and countless other soulless American chains, with vast car parks filling the space in between. When people leave their identikit suburban homes in a Type A town, it is invariably to go to “the mall”.
In a Type B town, corporate America has been kept mercifully at bay from a little downtown where greasy-spoon diners, second-hand bookshops, family-run Mexican restaurants and perhaps a park or two huddle together amidst a forest of star-spangled banners. Type B towns actually have a footpath alongside their roads – they allow and expect people to walk around them.
Oregon’s Highway 101 is littered with Type B towns. Places like Pacific City, Bandon, Newport, Florence and Point Orford are all pretty communities where locals like Bandon’s Chubby Cheesecake Girl welcome the grubby cycle tourist with free samples of their wares. Good ol’ boys in camouflage caps (which seem to be high fashion) holler things like “Git on the sidewalk!” from their pickup trucks. Upon overhearing a fellow cyclist and my conversation about the wide array of guns for sale in the Coos Bay Walmart, one man sidled up to mutter that “guns are the only thing that keep people at bay”. He was wearing purple overalls.
Despite seemingly murderous locals, the greatest danger to any cyclist’s health on the 101 are the hordes of baby boomers and their gargantuan Recreational Vehicles, or RVs.
There are two very strict laws for any RV driver:
- The bigger your RV, the better. Towing a trailer behind a pickup is OK, but these are inferior to the buses – veritable mansions on wheels – which tow your four-wheel-drive behind it. The RV can also tow a trailer carrying your four-by-four plus two Harley Davidson motorcycles, or perhaps even a golf cart. I have actually seen all of these things.
- Despite their size, there is absolutely no room in any RV for more than two people – a man and his wife. A third person would crowd up the living room, bedroom, guest room, dining room, storage space, television and bathroom.
The RV driver has many hobbies. These include milling about to take photos for undoubtedly disinterested grandchildren and using old-timey phrases like “saddle up”, which actually means “let’s climb back to our electrically-heated leather seats”. But the RV driver’s favourite pastime of all is murdering cyclists. Wherever you ride your bicycle in this great country, you will find RV drivers hunting you down in your scrap of highway shoulder to swat you like an insect on their tennis court-sized windscreen. However, the geriatrics behind the wheel are all at least 70 per cent blind and have only notional control of their vehicle, so must therefore make do with hurtling by, agonisingly close to their quarry.
The animosity that cycle tourists have for RV drivers is so intense that the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department has taken to segregating its campgrounds into separate areas for cyclists and the general population. The difference can be stark. In Normalville, older couples will retire to their electrically lighted and heated RVs at sunset to cook dinner in their spacious kitchen and watch TV. Midwestern families bond over wholesome camping activities, like burning shop-bought wood to roast marshmallows, while Dad drinks a Bud Light or two.
Meanwhile, over in the “hiker-biker” district, joints and pipes orbit the table or fire as strangers pool their food – a potato there, an onion here, a bit of pasta found at the bottom of a pannier, some cheese that needs to be used right now, a few pinches from someone’s bag of spices and someone else has a big jar of pesto. The merits of each cyclist’s stove are considered before it’s decided what will be used and people volunteer for chopping, stirring or washing up afterward. Someone has a small chopping board and the others make mental notes to get one for themselves.
Issues with mechanics and efficiency are discussed and gear nerds – bless them – volunteer all sorts of obscure gauges and wrenches to sort any minor niggles. The bright, good-looking couple from Canada or Germany retires to their two-person tent early and off in the trees, some lone wolf sits brooding at his own fire. As the weed makes more laps of the table, stories are told of strange, forgotten towns on Saskatchewan prairies before everyone gets too cold or sleepy and drifts off to brush teeth and crawl into sleeping bags.
In the morning we exchange notes on routes and say brief goodbyes. These are my people now, I realise. We’re all alone together.
Previously: Cycling the Americas Part II
Quinten Dol is riding his bicycle from Vancouver, Canada, to Ushuaia, Argentina, to raise money for the Australian Cancer Council’s Research Fund. Like any scummy hobo, he’s scraping a bit off the top to feed himself. Throw him a bone by making a donation here.