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Enjoy a Scenic Ride Down the Oregon Coast
There are few things as enticing as a Coastal Oregon road trip. You’ll find historic lighthouses, state parks, dunes and harbors as you ride the 363-mile Pacific Coast Scenic Byway.
The Byway route from Astoria to Garibaldi reveals the historic sites of Astoria before yielding to Fort Stevens, where the Columbia River meets the Pacific. Cannon Beach, Ecola State Park and Nehalem Bay complete the ride.
The Garibaldi to Newport segment begins in Tillamook Bay. The Cape Meares Lighthouse is a popular detour, as is the sand dune at Cape Kiwanda. You’ll see surfers in Nelscott Reef and hikers in the Cascade Head Preserve. Gray whales are spotted near Depoe Bay, and Oregon’s tallest lighthouse is in Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area.
From Newport’s lighthouse, visit the restaurants and shops of Nye Beach. The Oregon Coast Aquarium is across the Bay. Ride south to the Heceta Head Lighthouse, near the Sea Lion Caves. From there, visit Florence and the dunes of Coos Bay.
Coos Bay is the largest of the cities on the Oregon Coast. The Byway rejoins US-101 in Bandon, a heaven for golfers, before revealing more awe-inspiring coastal scenery. The Byway ends near the redwoods, south of Brookings.
Day One: Seattle, Washington to Astoria, Oregon
Logistics have determined that my ride through Western Oregon has to begin in Seattle, Washington. Not Oregon. That’s okay – I love Seattle. It’s a good starting point for any excursion, especially during the summer.
I land in Seattle/Tacoma International Airport, and take a car service to Bellevue’s Eastside Harley-Davidson. I’ve located an Electra Glide Ultra Limited for rent through Harley-Davidson Authorized Rentals. In the past, I’ve used the Harley Owners Group Fly and Ride, but the Motor Company has merged the two programs. Everything works out fine. I’m in and out of the dealership in 45 minutes, saddled up on a fully-loaded 2011 bike. The bike is beautifully detailed, black in color, and has a few extra features, like heated handgrips and a 12-volt outlet in the Tour Park. That may come in handy.
I don’t think I’ll be using the heated handgrips today. The temperature is in the low 80s in Seattle, and I’m in my ATGATT (All The Gear, All The Time) mode with H-D FXRG jacket, overpants and boots, along with gloves and Kevlar-lined Harley-Davidson blue jeans underneath it all. With my full-face helmet, I’m protected from the road, but I’m going to have to force myself to stop frequently to hydrate.
I’m eager to get to Oregon, so I jump on the superslab for a while to get out of town. I take I-405 South to I-5 South, then retreat to US 101 just south of Olympia for a more pleasant trip to the Coast. The grind of the Interstate quickly gives way to a beautiful, undulating road though pine forests and wooded hills. I see tons of fellow motorcyclists out on the road today, the majority cruisers. Everybody looks happy, and many waves are exchanged.
I finally reach the coastline, and decide to stop for a meal. I am intrigued by a sign that promises a “Historic Main Street” in Raymond, Washington, so I turn off of US 101 and head west into town. Raymond turns out to be a charming little hamlet with a real artistic bent. Life-size metal silhouettes of deer, wolves, fishermen and lumberjacks line the roadsides of town. Other public art is displayed in a totally unselfconscious fashion. It’s very cool.
I stop at the only open restaurant in Raymond on a Sunday afternoon, the Corner Café. They specialize in breakfasts, which is fine by me. A ham and cheese omelet is pretty much my favorite road food.
Back on the road again, I’m closing in on Oregon. I enter the area of Lewis and Clark National Historic Sites, which are intermingled with Washington and Oregon State Parks near the mouth of the Columbia River. I stop at Dismal Nitch, where I get my first look at Astoria, Oregon on the other side of the river. It’s beautiful. Dismal Nitch may have been one of the toughest places that the Lewis and Clark expedition faced, but today, it’s a tranquil overlook, and a great place to pause before entering Oregon.
I ride across the Astoria-Megler Bridge, the longest continuous truss bride in North America at 21,474 feet (over 4 miles). Somewhere in the middle of the Columbia River, I finally enter Oregon.
The Astoria hotel is just a half a mile west of the Astoria-Megler Bridge. I park the bike out front, and check in. I’m greeted by Seth at the front desk, and the smell of fresh-baked cookies. The hotel also has an indoor pool, library and fitness center, and even better, is right near a the very scenic Historic Downtown Astoria Riverwalk – exercise and sightseeing at the same time.
Seth recommends a restaurant within walking distance – Ann & Tony Kischner’s Bridgewater Bistro, which is in a converted wharf building in the shadow of the Astoria-Megler Bridge. I have the special, blackened locally-caught sturgeon with an apricot sauce. The food is fantastic, and the atmosphere just gets better as the sun goes down and the big windows on the river reveal the beautifully-lit bridge.
Back at the hotel lobby, I snag a freshly baked chocolate chip cookie and go upstairs. My room is lovely, with a fireplace, flat screen television and a big whirlpool bathtub. As soon as I finish writing, I’ll be soaking in hot water to recover from the road, and get ready for tomorrow’s ride.
Miles ridden: 197
NEXT UP: DAY TWO. ASTORIA TO LINCOLN CITY, OREGON
Day Two – Astoria, Oregon to Lincoln City, Oregon
I’m greeted by light rain as I pack up to ride today. There was a big thunderstorm last night, but I slept right through it in my comfortable bed.
Rain is a fact of life in Oregon, and the locals welcome it as a treasure. Lawns are lush here, flowers grow in abundance and vegetable gardens burst with bounty. None of this would be possible without the rain. Everything looks clean, fresh and healthy. I’ll take a little rain early in the day in exchange for such beauty.
I grab a quick (free!) breakfast in the lobby of the Astoria hotel as I review my riding plans. There’s so much to do and see between here and Lincoln City that I’ll never get to explore it all.
My motorcycle looks clean (and a little wet), but the rain has faded to a mist as I leave the hotel in my rear view. I meander a bit through downtown Astoria before heading south. The well-preserved architecture gives an old-fashioned feel that’s very welcoming. I’m tempted to dawdle and see the Astoria Column, but the reality of climbing 164 steps to the observation deck keeps me on the bike. I’d really like to see the Oregon Film Museum some day. I had no idea that Oregon has had such an illustrious history in cinema, but professional filmmaking has a legacy in the state, starting with The Fisherman’s Bride back in 1908. Maybe I’ll come back for the Astoria International Film Festival in October.
Instead of lingering in Astoria, I ride on. I’ve always been fascinated with Lewis and Clark, and I’ve traced quite a bit of the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail on a motorcycle. Oregon is home to the end of the Trail, and to several significant sites along the way. I decided to visit Fort Clatsop, where the Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery wintered from December 1805 to March 1806. The National Parks Service has reconstructed the Fort, and Park Rangers in period costume give impromptu lectures and talks about the expedition. There’s a great visitor’s center with informative displays, and a well-stocked gift shop onsite.
After an hour or so at Fort Clatsop, I hop back on the bike. The mist has begun lifting, which means there’s great riding ahead.
Like yesterday, I see a lot of bikes on the road today. And not just motorcycles – there are bicycles everywhere. Oregon has a rabid bicycling community, and I pass several bike tour groups pedaling down the coast. It’s almost tempting me to give up my motorized two-wheeler for a human-powered model. Almost.
I cruise along the coast on US 101, enjoying the ride. I decide to explore Seaside, the oceanfront town at the end of the Lewis and Clark Trail. In 1806, the Corps set up camp and salt-making operation at the location of present-day Seaside. The salt was essential to the Corps’ survival, as they used it to preserve meat.
Seaside has been a popular tourist destination for over a century, with its wide beaches and gorgeous hillside home locations. My hotel in Seaside sits right on the Prom at the Pacific’s edge, with a lovely beach and walking access to the city's many attractions. Riding through town, I see families enjoying indoor miniature golf, video arcades, bumper cars and other fun. Even though a light fog hangs over the beach today, people are playing, running, riding bikes and exploring the area. A statue on the Prom commemorates the end of the Lewis and Clark Trail, depicting the great men and Captain Lewis’ loyal Newfoundland dog, Seaman. There are plenty of live dogs around, too, which makes me miss my pups a little. They would love this town – and that statue.
I’m starting to get a little hungry, but I’m saving my appetite. I stop by one of Seaside’s roadside Espresso huts for a double-shot Americano to tide me over. Oregon rivals Washington in its love for coffee. Tiny little Espresso huts serve freshly roasted and brewed coffee all along US 101. Some look like converted Foto Hut stores, some look like gussied up garden sheds. The common denominator is great coffee, just the thing to fuel a ride along the coast.
Time for lunch. I reach Tilamook County, home to two of my favorite food makers: Tilamook Country Smoker and Tilamook Cheese. Tilamook Country Smoker makes jerky in a factory in Bay City, and they’ve got an outlet store adjacent to the factory. Or, if I may categorize it in other terms: Heaven. I buy a small package of turkey jerky, and a pound of beef jerky (for $9.99!). I’ve got the first course of my lunch, and snacks for the rest of my trip.
The big food attraction is the Tilamook Cheese Factory. The big building in the city of Tilamook is a major tourist attraction, with a bustling parking lot and heavy traffic. Inside the factory, visitors are welcome to take a free self-guided factory tour. It’s very cool to watch the workers inspecting, slicing and packing blocks of cheese, and to see endless conveyor belts of cheese traveling through the factory. Best of all, there’s a sampling line, where you can taste every variety of cheese that Tilamook makes. Or, as I call it today, the second course of lunch. The sampling line leads directly in to a big gift store, where Tilamook products (cheese and ice cream) are sold, along with related gifts and trinkets. If that isn’t enough, there’s also a Tilamook restaurant and ice cream bar. Lactose intolerant travelers need not apply.
Reluctantly, I climb back on the Electra Glide and depart Tilamook. I depart US 101 for US 131, and The Three Capes Scenic Drive. The three capes – Cape Kiwanda, Cape Lookout and Cape Meares peek out along the coast, and form some of the most magnificent coastal views in the Northwest. Storms and reconstruction have temporarily closed some of the road, but I’m able to ride to Cape Meares to explore the Cape Meares Lighthouse. At just 38 feet high, the Cape Meares Lighthouse is the shortest in Oregon, but it occupies a position on a high bluff above the ocean that belies its diminutive height. The gorgeous location is worth the steep hike back to the parking lot.
The Electra Glide and I make good time on the final push to our stopping point for tonight, the hotel in Lincoln City. We backtrack on US 131, and pick up US 101 South again. We pass by the Tilamook Air Museum without stopping – it will have to wait for another trip.
Lincoln City is another tourist destination on the Oregon Coast. It has been named one of the 25 best places to retire in the United States, and features cultural and recreational activities year round, with a population of nearly 8,000. After a long day in the saddle, I’m mostly interested in my hotel, and some food.
My Lincoln City hotel is a lovely place, with a big welcoming front entrance highlighted by a calming water feature out front. Two Harley-Davidsons are parked in front of the hotel when I arrive – a very good sign, by my account. I park, and then enter the cozy lobby to do some paperwork. I notice that the hotel has DVDs available to rent, along with a selection of frozen treats for sale. Nice! Elizabeth at the front desk proves very knowledgeable about local seafood restaurants. She tells me that she tries out all of the local eateries so that she’ll be able to make informed recommendations. I like that. Elizabeth recommends Pier 101 Deluxe Bar and Grill, just 2.5 miles north on US 101. The food turns out to be great, and the portions mammoth. My giant bowl of steamed clams that are the best I’ve had on the West Coast, ever (Best on the East Coast: Brown’s Lobster Pound, Seabrook Beach, New Hampshire). My main course is a Washington-caught Red Snapper, cooked in the Vera Cruz style. Delicious. I don’t even have room for dessert, believe it or not.
Back in my room at the hotel now, I am eager to ride again tomorrow. The weather report looks hopeful – clear skies, warm temperatures and light winds.
Tonight, I’ll dream of clams.
Miles ridden: 170
NEXT UP: DAY THREE: LINCOLN CITY TO BANDON
Day Three – Lincoln City, Oregon to Bandon, Oregon
I’m up early this morning. I pore over my map while I eat my hot breakfast at the hotel. I really like Lincoln City, and this hotel. I could see the ocean from my balcony, and I slept with the balcony door open so that I could enjoy the sea breeze and the sounds of the surf. I slept very well, and I’m raring to go. I’ve got a lot to see today.
First up, I ride back into town to see the town’s namesake. Lincoln City was born in 1965, when the towns of Cutler City, Taft, Nelscott, Delake, and Oceanlake merged and incorporated. At about the same time, sculptor Anna Hyatt Huntington (1876 – 1973) was looking for a home for “Abraham Lincoln on Horseback,” a big bronze that depicted youthful Abe astride a steed, reading a book (Lincoln’s reading – not the horse). The statue now sits on the corner of NW 22nd Street and Quay in Lincoln City, outside of the Lincoln City Community Center.
The fact that Lincoln is reading seems entirely appropriate for the Oregon Coast. I pass numerous libraries on my ride today, along with multiple used book stores. Nice.
Lincoln City also has one of the coolest buildings I’ve ever seen. Not because of its architecture or location – it’s an ordinary-looking modern structure on a busy street. But it houses the Lincoln City Hall, the Lincoln City Library and the Culinary Center of Lincoln City. Think of the possibilities.
One odd fact about Lincoln City: The D River that runs through town is the shortest river in the world, according to the state of Oregon. It connects Devil’s Lake with the Pacific Ocean, some 120 feet away. I don’t know if it actually qualifies as a river, or if it is actually the shortest – but the D River certainly has the shortest name of any river in the world.
I reluctantly ride away from Lincoln City. The weather is perfect today, and the road is calling.
I trek down US 101 South, darting inland now, hugging the coast then. Oregon has done a great job of spending its tax dollars on roads. Most of the surfaces are smooth and nicely cambered, perfect for motorcycle riding. I stop at a particularly nice spot, Depoe Bay, and snap a few photos of the coastline. A placard informs me that this is a great vantage point from which to spot gray whales during their migration. Several local businesses advertise whale-watching decks, and whale-watching tours.
I continue down the coastline, and follow a sign that points toward Yaquina Head. Yesterday, I saw the shortest lighthouse in Oregon at Cape Meares; today, I get a chance to see the tallest, the Yaquina Head Lighthouse. The 93-foot tall working lighthouse is open to the public, and an interpretive center nearby provides information about the structure and the beautiful natural setting that it occupies. A crowd has already lined up for the opportunity to climb to the lighthouse’s peak, so I content myself with taking some pictures and admiring the tower from the outside. After all, it’s almost lunchtime.
I jump back on US 101, and continue my journey south. A few miles down from Yaquina Head is the charming town of Newport. I park my bike down on Newport’s Historic Bayfront, the city’s original tourist district. The area hosts numerous restaurants, seafood processors, gift shops and galleries, all jumbled together in charming fashion. I stroll for a while, poking my nose into the storefronts and looking at menus.
I decide to go to the original Mo’s. Mo’s is a six-restaurant chain with locations along the Oregon Coast. They specialize in seafood, and are famous for their clam chowder. That’s what I order, along with a shrimp sandwich. All I can tell you is – Mo’s is rightfully famous.
Full of chowder and shrimp, I continue down US 101. Newport merits a return visit. I only get a chance to explore the Bayfront, but Newport has four other districts: Agate Beach, Nye Beach, the Deco District and South Beach. I’d probably stay at the Newport Beach Inn, which would be a great base of operations to explore this cool town.
Just south of Florence, the landscape of the Oregon Coast changes dramatically. I’ve just entered the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area. The National Park Service administers beach access; the beaches themselves are Oregon State Parks. The coastline, formerly rocky and craggy, is now dominated by enormous sand dunes, some as tall as 500 feet. I follow a toyhauler into the park – they seem to know where they’re going, with their big RV full of sand rails and ATVs. Within the park, there are legal trails and areas for off-road vehicles to play and explore. Environmentalists may decry this use of the beach, but it looks like a lot of fun to me, and it is in a very controlled area. I also see some big dune buggies hauling a dozen or so tourists in seats high above the sand. I don’t know if I’d go that route.
I ride further into the park, and find a quiet parking area. I dismount the bike, and hike into the dunes in search of the beach. After hiking farther than I expect, up and down several rows of sand dunes for about 15 minutes, I finally reach the wind-swept beach. It is totally worth the climb. The beach is wide, dramatic and gorgeous. The wind blows heavily, and the temperature is brisk, about 10 degrees cooler on the ocean side of the dunes than on the land side. I stand and admire the powerful Pacific Ocean for a few minutes, drawing on its energy to inspire the climb back across the dunes.
Back on the bike, I marvel at the park, which stretches about 40 miles along the Oregon Coast, from Florence to Coos Bay.
After Coos Bay, I pass one of the most famous landmarks on the Oregon Coast, Bandon Dunes Golf Course. Bandon Dunes is a private course, consistently rated as the number one or number two golf course in the United States, trading back and forth with Monterey, California’s Pebble Beach. Golfers come from all over the world to play the famous links.
Quite nearby, I reach my destination for the night. This Bandon hotel really is an Inn, a collection of cottages with more suites than rooms. The beautiful layout is set against the backdrop of a unique 9-hole public golf course, Old Bandon Golf Links. I’m no golfer, but even I can see that there’s something different about this place. It is wilder, and more in harmony with nature -- more akin to the traditional Scottish course than the perfectly manicured American course. Golfers can choose to play the course with hickory golf clubs and authentic gutta percha balls, recreating the experience of golf in its Golden Age. It almost makes me want to take up the clubs.
My room is a lovely suite with a balcony that overlooks the final hole of Bandon Crossings. Framed period photographs from the early days of the town of Bandon decorate the walls of the tastefully decorated room. The gentle hush of the golf course, the voices of the birds and the sound of the surf mingle in the air. I open all of the windows, and let the world in.
Dinner tonight is at Bandon Bill’s Grill, right on the grounds of the hotel. I usually eat alone on these trips, spending more time interacting with my Kindle than with other people. Tonight, I’ve been invited to join the Inn at Face Rock’s principal owner, “Bandon Bill” Clark, and Marc Dryden, the Managing Partner, for dinner. Front Office Manager Anthony Muirhead also joined us, along with Pete Bauer, a member of Bandon’s Chamber of Commerce. The food was fantastic, as was the company. Bandon Bill is a great raconteur, and he’s a fanatic motorcyclist. He has ridden over 240,000 miles, from Alaska to Argentina, and counts friends in every corner of the Western Hemisphere from his journeys. Bill has a saying (actually, Bill has lots of sayings): “May your meal never be better than the company you keep.” In other words, a great meal is only great if it is shared with great friends. Amen, Bill. This was a great meal. Fresh seafood – really fresh, direct from the docks – prepared on a wood fire grill, delicious sides an impeccable service. It doesn’t hurt that I was dining with the restaurant’s owner, but I could tell from restaurant manager Denise’s enthusiasm that everyone gets treated like family at Bandon Bill’s.
Anthony turns out to be a Bandon area native, and was very informative about life in the area. Pete is also an interesting guy. He was the gymnastics coach at the University of Wisconsin, Madison and also managed the golf instruction program there. When he retired to pursue his artistic passion of wood carving, Pete and his wife Candace chose Bandon. Pete can comb the beaches for driftwood to use in his artwork, and getting quality local wood is easy in the area. Pete also caddies part time at Bandon Dunes, and his wife busks in Old Town Bandon, playing the harp. Pete claims to be retired, but I don’t believe it.
Pete and Marc inform me that Bandon is more of a golf destination than I had imagined. Four of the top 15 golf courses in the United States are in the area, which is quite amazing. Since the timber mills have moved out, tourism has taken over as the primary industry in Bandon, eclipsing even fishing as employment. There are dozens of fine restaurants, art galleries and gift stores, as well as activities for the whole family.
Bandon Bill informs me that he has a special side trip planned for me tomorrow. I’m scheduled to depart the Oregon Coast and head north – but Bill wants to ride south with me first, and take me to someplace that every biker must see. I can’t wait.
First, off to sleep in my luxurious suite. I’ll drift off to sleep listening to the waves, a dreaming of tomorrow.
Miles ridden: 185
NEXT UP: DAY FOUR: BANDON TO CORVALLIS
Day Four – Bandon, Oregon to Corvallis, Oregon
I jump out of bed, get dressed and get packed up. I’ve got an appointment to ride this morning. “Bandon Bill” Clark has promised to take me to a place that every biker must visit.
I make time for a hot breakfast of eggs, sausage, biscuit and gravy in the breakfast room at Bandon Bill’s Grill on the hotel grounds. I remember the great meal I had in the dining room here last night – I wonder if I could extend my stay, just one more night? No – I’ve got places to go, promises to keep. You know the story.
I check out of the hotel, bidding Anthony farewell. Bill is outside warming up his Harley-Davidson Softail. It’s a 2002 Heritage, and it’s seen a lot of the world.
I saddle up on the Electra Glide, and thumb the bike to life. Man, that sounds good. I follow Bill out of the parking lot, and we head on down the road. We link back up with US 101 South, and soon we’re snaking down the pavement. Bill rides confidently, and he’s a born leader. I fall in formation, and keep pace as we hum along. The weather is perfect. The wind has cleared the cloud cover, the sun is shining and the temperature is delightful – not too warm, not too cool. A great day to ride.
About 25 miles down the road, we leave the highway and ride west toward the ocean. We’ve arrived at Cape Blanco State Park, home to the Hughes House and the Cape Blanco Lighthouse. Bill claims that we are now at the westernmost point in the contiguous United States. The Internet disagrees, claiming that distinction for Cape Alava, Washington -- but I don’t. It’s the spirit of the adventure that counts. I love the fact that Bandon Bill took a morning out of his life to take me to the westernmost point in the contiguous US, and I will never forget the ride. I even have pictures of Bill and me together to prove it.
Bill accompanies me back north, and I leave his company at Bandon. I give two toots of the Electra Glide’s muscular horn, and Bill waves in salute. I’ll see you down the road, Bill.
I retrace my steps as far as Reedsport, about 50 miles up US 101, then stop for lunch at a little espresso/sandwich hut called “Back to the Best.” The coffee is great, and the smoked salmon sandwich is out of this world. Sometimes the little places can surprise you.
From Reedsport, I head inland on Route 38, the Umpqua Highway along the Umpqua River. A few miles up the road, I see a sign that promises “Elk Viewing Area.” Sure enough, a herd of elk lounges in a field beside the road, snacking on grass and generally enjoying themselves. They are a small group, maybe three-dozen elk in total, but they are no more than 100 yards from the low fences that keep people out of the clearing. The elk are magnificent animals, with big racks of antlers and a quiet confidence that radiates across the distance. I’m so glad I’m on this road today.
The Umpqua River is not mighty, but it is beautiful. The Umpqua Highway winds along with the river from Reedsport through small towns like Scottsburg, Green Acres and Elkton. It’s a lovely stretch of road, perfect for a nice, relaxed motorcycle cruise.
At Elkton, the river turns south, and the highway splits off to the east through Sunnydale and ending at the town of Drain. I pick up Route 99 in Drain, and resume my trip northward. Route 99 merges with the dreaded Interstate 5 for a stretch, and I endure the superslab in order to get to Eugene.
Eugene is the home of the University of Oregon. The U of O is a major academic institution, and the school has a rich tradition of athletic achievement as well. Their team name is “The Ducks,” which does not inspire much fear. The campus is big, hosting over 23,000 students. The school has been around since 1872, and boasts a wide variety of architecture and topography. I cruise around the impressive buildings, thankful that I’m visiting during the sleepy summer session and not contending with the full student body.
I ride around Eugene for a while, exploring its neighborhoods and business areas. Could it be that the famous Oregon rain keeps things clean? Eugene is a sparkling city, with lush gardens, plenty of green space and well-kept public spaces. Many single-family houses from the Victorian era through the early Arts & Crafts period have survived, and people seem to take pride in the quaint architecture. Arts & Crafts was a movement that emphasized the connection with nature and with craftsmanship, and the style really meshes well with Eugene’s geography and natural setting. On a clear day like today, this town is enchanting.
The road beckons. I’ve still got a few miles to cover on Route 99. I settle into a groove, and soon I’m in Corvallis, my stop for the night. I turn into the parking lot, admiring the hotel’s columned portico. Vince at the front desk handles my check in with aplomb. The only wrinkle comes when Vince offers me a freshly baked chocolate chip cookie. They’re all gone! Two giggling young women sit at the lobby computer, their lips suspiciously smeared with chocolate and their chins dusted with cookie crumbs. Harumph! Vince promises to bake another batch. In the meantime, he recommends a nearby restaurant, El Sol de Mexico, for dinner when I ask for a recommendation within walking distance.
I put my luggage in my room, a convenient ground floor suite, take off my riding gear and head out for dinner. El Sol de Mexico features Jalisco-style Mexican food at two locations in Corvalis. As a Californian, I’m skeptical about Mexican food when it’s served this far north of the border. But I’m happy to report that El Sol de Mexico does a great job with a traditional menu. And, best of all for me tonight, it’s a short walk from the hotel so I treat myself to a Mexican beer with my meal.
It was a long hot ride today, with so much to see. Add a beer to the mix, and I’m ready for sleep. I return to the hotel, and Vince is true to his word -- there's a batch of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies waiting at the front desk. I limit myself to two cookies, and then go to my room. I’m asleep in minutes. A suite as spacious and nicely furnished as this might be wasted on me – I’m barely awake long enough to explore it.
Tomorrow is a shorter ride. Tomorrow I enter wine country.
Miles ridden: 266
NEXT UP: DAY FIVE: CORVALLIS TO FOREST GROVE
Day Five – Corvallis, Oregon to Forest Grove, Oregon
I wake up refreshed from a great night's sleep at the hotel in Corvallis. On my way to the lobby for a hot free breakfast, I stop and chat with Ivy at the front desk. This is my first-ever visit to Corvallis, and I don't need to rush away so quickly. Ivy gives me a map of the city, and points out some highlights. I study the map while I drink some coffee and nibble daintily on a toasted bagel.
I load up the Electra Glide and set out to tool around the city. 50,000 people call Corvallis home, and another 100,000 folks live in the surrounding area. Still, Corvallis retains a small town feel, with a real sense of the natural environment and a respect for history.
Downtown, I park near the Benton County Courthouse, a historic building that is still active. Built in 1888, the four-story building is a classic, and obviously well-loved and cared for in downtown Corvallis. Guided tours are available by appointment. I admire and photograph the beautiful building from the outside.
I saddle back up and ride a few blocks over to the Willamette River, which defines the eastern border of Corvallis. City planners have devoted the land along the river to a beautiful public park, Corvallis Riverfront Park. Graceful walking paths, ample seating and lovely landscapes form a relaxing gathering place for the whole town. Numerous restaurants, shops and art galleries have sprung up along the park, and it would be easy to loll away the afternoon in the pleasant neighborhood.
Back on the bike again, I ride to the center of town to explore the campus of Oregon State University. The school is like a city unto itself, with over 23,000 students and 3,400 faculty members. Lush greenery, plenty of flowers, elegant buildings and a very relaxed vibe make me wish I could go back to college again -- almost. OSU is best-known for its leadership in Environmental Studies (and for its athletic team name, the Beavers). It's easy to see how the school's setting inspires students and faculty to want to protect and preserve the environment.
I ride through some of Corvallis' neighborhoods, admiring the way that the town's homes make the most of nature. Even after five days riding through Oregon, I'm still struck with how clean everything is, especially compared to my hometown. Oregonians really take pride in their surroundings.
I depart Corvallis on Route 99W, and head north toward McMinnville. I'm heading into the wine region of the Willamette Valley now, and I start to see orderly rows of grape vines climbing over the rolling hills. Vineyards and wineries interweave in the landscape with family dairies, sheep farms and other agricultural lands. The road delivers me down an undulating journey of the senses. I'm glad that I'm not trapped in a car today, and that I'm able to take in all of my surroundings. It's good to be a biker.
I stop for lunch in McMinnville. I'm immediately drawn to historic 3rd Street, the heart of town. I snag a parking spot next to another Harley-Davidson. That's one of the side benefits of riding a motorcycle -- parking is always a breeze. I'm now walking distance from dozens of nice restaurants, shops and galleries. It's Thursday, and the Farmer's Market is setting up on a side street. A few hundred people have gathered in a small park, watching a folk band performance on a stage. Locals and tourists intermingle, and the whole environment is both relaxed and upscale. I meander up and down the street, finally settling on the Wildwood Café for my lunch. The food was good, but the service was great. With so many restaurants clustered in such close proximity, it's hard to make a bad choice in McMinnville.
In addition to the charms of 3rd Street, the McMinnville area is also home to one of the man-made wonders of the world -- Howard Hughes' famous Spruce Goose, the plane with the largest wingspan of any ever to fly. The Spruce Goose is the star attraction at the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum, where it has been since 1993. The museum also houses a B-17 bomber, a Titan missile and many other aviation artifacts, along with a water park and an Imax theater.
After lunch, I continue my ride north. I leave Route 99W for Route 47, which will take me right into Forest Grove. Along the way, I detour for a ride around Henry Hagg Lake, a manmade lake in Gaston. The lake was created in the 1970s by the damming of Scoggins Creek for the purposes of water management in the Tualatin River. The lake has become a popular local boating, fishing and recreation area. A road runs around the lake for about 15 miles, making for a pleasant, scenic side trip. I haven't been able to find out who Henry Hagg was, but I'm certain that he'd be pleased by the lake that bears his name.
After my ride around the lake, I cruise into Forest Grove. General Manager Stacey Richey greets me at the front desk, and hands me the keys to a lovely second floor suite. Today has been a hot one, so I decide to take the opportunity to swim in the Inn's indoor pool, and to use the convenient guest laundry to freshen my clothes. I've traveled light on this trip, as always, so I have to do some rinsing and hanging dry along the way to avoid wearing dirty clothes. Finding a guest laundry is even better -- I can wash and dry my jeans, which otherwise might get up and walk away on their own.
Stacey can see that I'm a bit worse for the wear today, so she recommends that I have dinner at Prime Time, a very unpretentious sports bar and grill across the road from the hotel. Once I've dried off from my swim and finished up my laundry, I dress comfortably and go out to dinner. Prime Time proves to be a popular local hangout, with a friendly staff, good hearty food and a nice selection of local beers. It's just the ticket for my dehydrated bones. I enjoy a burger and fries, along with a dark brew from Forest Grove's Off The Rail Brewery.
Satisfied and rehydrated, I stroll back to the hotel. I fall contentedly into bed, my eyes closed almost before I can turn off the light.
Tomorrow, I explore Oregon's wine country.
Miles ridden: 130
NEXT UP: DAY SIX: FOREST GROVE
Day Six – Forest Grove, Oregon
While I eat a hot meal today in the breakfast room at the hotel, I do a bit of research. I don't know much about Forest Grove, but what I have seen so far intrigues me.
I discover that the school that inspired the name of the hotel is Pacific University, a prestigious liberal arts school. Its main campus is downtown in Forest Grove. Pacific University is the oldest university in Oregon, having been founded in 1849 -- ten years before Oregon became a state. The beautiful little campus educates over 3,200 students per year in undergraduate and graduate studies. It would be a very nice place to go to school, especially with its close proximity to Portland.
Forest Grove has some of the quaintness of McMinnville, but is much more of a working town. Settled in the 1840s, Forest Grove got its name in 1859. The village started out as a farming settlement, but over the years became much more of a business and trade center. As Forest Grove has grown, it has retained a mix of the urban and rural characters that marked its early years. Portland is just 30 miles away, and many Forest Grove residents commute for employment at one of the major businesses nearby, like Nike and Intel.
Oregon's wine industry is also clustered near Forest Grove. Over a dozen wineries in the area feature tasting rooms and direct wine sales. Oregon has become known for its Pinot Noir in recent years, with stature rivaling the wines of California.
A word on wine tasting, if you've never tried it. As you travel from winery to winery, you'll wind up drinking more wine than you realize, so it's highly recommended that you assign a member of your party as a non-sampling designated driver. If you're on a motorcycle, you're out of luck -- no sampling for you. Luckily, there are several local services available for hire as wine tour guides. Some operate year-round, others operate only during peak seasons. Whatever you do, don't drink and drive or ride on a round of tastings. Even if you only sip, it's a bad idea.
Sometimes it's good to be a moto journalist. Teri Koerner, the Executive Director of Forest Grove's Chamber of Commerce, has offered to drive me around Forest Grove, and will escort me on a tour of a few local wineries. Teri is a recent transplant to Forest Grove, and she has immersed herself in the local business and social scene. Everywhere we go, she is hailed as a favorite visitor, and I get to bask in her reflected popularity. She's a born booster, and a great advocate for Forest Grove.
The first stop on our winery tour is David Hill Vineyard and Winery, one of the oldest wineries in the state. The location is a designated historical landmark on the Washington County, Oregon register. David Hill's setting is absolutely gorgeous, with a lovely old farmhouse in the middle of a 140-acre estate. 45 of the estate's acres are planted with grapes, including Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Riesling and other varieties. The winery has become a popular location for weddings and other events. It's hard to imagine a more beautiful or romantic setting.
The David Hill tasting room is simple and relaxed. Christy, the tasting room associate, asks me some questions about my knowledge of wine and my tastes. She then selects a flight of wines for me to sample, and describes what smells, tastes and feelings I can expect from each pour. I am delighted to find that the David Hill wines are bold and distinct from one another. I am tempted to buy some of the Farmhouse Red, a very reasonably priced ($11) blend of Cabernet, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Syrah that would make a great table wine. Even though Tasting Room Manager Michele assures me that I'll have no problem transporting my wine home in my checked luggage if I wrap it properly in a wine skin bottle transport bag. I decide not to buy any wine today, because I just don't have room on the motorcycle. I can always order some over the Internet or by phone.
Our next stop is at Montinore Estate, one of Oregon's large vineyards at over 230 acres. Montinore has wide distribution -- you might even find a case in your local wine store. The Montinore tasting room is large and modern, with a commanding view of the surrounding vineyards. Tasting room associate Lynn proves to be very friendly and informative about the wines. I'm discovering that a good tasting is a two-way street. I have to tell Lynn about my likes and dislikes, and I have to be honest about my level of wine knowledge (low). That way, Lynn can select wines for me to taste that will appeal to my palate, and she can help me to identify and describe what I like (or don't like) about particular wines. It's fun and interesting -- and that's not just the wine talking. I discover that I like Montinore's white wines more than I expected to. In particular, the 2009 Reserve Riesling is "an alluring dry wine layered with flavors of spice and honey," as described in the tasting menu. All I know is, it was light and crisp, without the sweetness that I associate with many white wines. Lynn said I'd taste a hint of stainless steel, and I did. Nice.
Next up, we go to a small family winery, Plum Hill Vineyards. RJ and Juanita Lint own and operate Plum Hill, which produces about 1,200 cases of wine per year. Juanita takes me for a tour of the facility. The Lints have transformed the former dairy farm into a tidy little vineyard, with clever innovations that make its operation more efficient. Their cozy tasting room is a gathering place for other local residents, and their wines are the very definition of hand crafted. I appreciate the contrast between the large and successful Montinore and the scrappy little Plum Hill, and I believe that I can taste the difference in their wines. The character of the wine maker is definitely reflected in the wine. I would be remiss if I didn't mention Ghost, the Plum Hill Vineyard Yellow Labrador dog, who was an excellent co-host.
I am not a wine expert. I'm not even a wine connoisseur. My wife and I have been exploring red wines over the past year or so, and have discovered that we both really like Cabernet Sauvignon, a wine that California vineyards do very well. I've been to a few wine tastings, and I know that they can be stuffy and intimidating in the wrong setting. My experience in Oregon has been the exact opposite -- relaxed and welcoming at every front.
Teri saves a surprise for me at the end of our tour. We roll back into the town of Forest Grove, and pull up into a small industrial park. We're at the home of Momokawa Oregon Craft Saké. Momokawa's parent company, SakéOne, has partnered with Japan's Murai family of saké brewers, and produces premium saké for the American market. I'm a big fan of Japanese cuisine and I love saké, so I'm thrilled to get a chance to experience premium saké in the Momokawa tasting room. Charlotte, our tasting room associate, knows everything about saké and is an enthusiastic advocate for the beverage. She tells me that Forest Grove was selected as the site for the Momokawa brewery because of the quality of the local water, and access to great rice. Charlotte pours samples of saké varieties, as she explains that yeast and koji-jin are the ingredients that turn rice and and water into saké. Koji-jin is a simple mold that converts rice starch into sugar, which is then fermented by the yeast. I taste the range of saké from Genshu to Nigori, and even sample the plum-infused saké. I feel like I know saké better now, and I'm eager for my next Japanese meal.
Teri drops me off back at the hotel. I'm very glad that I didn't drive today, and I'm especially glad that I a great guide like Teri to show me around.
After a quick power nap and a few cups of coffee, I'm ready to take the short ride over to historic downtown Forest Grove, just a mile and a half away from the hotel. I'm meeting my friend and fellow auto writer Jeff Zurschmiede and his daughter Katie for dinner at Stecchino Bistro, the premier Italian restaurant in town. Stecchino Bistro's chef is a proponent of the Slow Food movement, so the restaurant specializes in local ingredients in all of its dishes. The food was great, the company even better -- so the meal lived up to Bandon Bill's credo.
I make the quick ride back to the hotel room, and hit the hay. Tomorrow's my last full day of riding, and I want to be well rested.
Miles ridden: 4
NEXT UP: DAY SEVEN: FOREST GROVE TO SEATTLE AND HOME
Day Seven/Eight – Forest Grove to Seattle and Home
I got up early this morning. I wanted to have time to enjoy my last full day of riding. So, I rushed through a quick hot breakfast at the, then hurried back up to my room to gather my belongings and get onto the bike. I'm still amazed at how close Forest Grove is to Portland. Just 30 miles up the road, the big city seems worlds away. Forest Grove may be at commuting distance, but it doesn't feel like a suburb. It is a community in itself, and the hotel is a great vantage point from which to explore.
Oregonians take their summers seriously. Whenever the sun is out, so are they. Today, they're out on two wheels -- mostly of the bicycle variety. They're also very fond of Farmers' Markets. I pass several during my journey today, and they're bursting with produce and people. It's a beautiful day for riding.
Instead of riding into Portland -- that's fodder for another trip to Oregon -- I ride directly north from Forest Grove through Hillsboro, North Plains and Scappoose, taking the back roads and pretty much following my nose without a definite route in mind. I know that if I keep heading north, I'll eventually hit Washington.
I stop for a cup of coffee in the village of St. Helens, a quaint town of about 12,000 on the Columbia River. St. Helens has been around since the 1850s, and is still a working lumber and mining town. It is close enough to Portland to have been somewhat gentrified, but it is a lovely step backward in time with a great dose of Americana.
Back on the bike, I reach the Lewis & Clark Bridge, which takes me across the Columbia River from Rainier, Oregon into Longview, Washington. From here, it's a freeway blast up I-5 northward in Washington State back up to Seattle.
I decide to take a detour along the way. How can I ride past the site of one of the great natural disasters of the 20th century without stopping to gawk?
I leave Interstate 5 at the Castle Rock exit 49, and ride east for 5 miles to the Mount St. Helens Visitor Center at Silver Lake. Mount St. Helens is an active volcano that famously erupted in 1980, reshaping the local environment and shocking the world. I park, then enter the Visitor Center to explore. I watch a 13-minute film that brings back the awe that I remember from 1980, and the power of the event. Fifty-seven people died in the eruption, and over 250 homes were destroyed along with acres and acres of forest and man-made infrastructure. The power of nature is awesome to behold, and frightening enough to inspire nightmares.
The rock wall around the Visitor Center provides a postcard perfect view of the volcano, some miles away. It is possible to get closer to the Mount and to hike and climb in the area. It's even possible to hire a helicopter for a view inside the mouth of the volcano. I was quite satisfied with the view from the Visitor Center -- especially after having just watched the footage of the immense power of Mount St. Helens.
I saddle up again, and blast my way back up to the interstate and into the metropolis of Seattle. Even though it's a Saturday, the traffic is heavy. It's hot outside, and I can't wait to get out of my leathers.
I'm spending the night in Tukwila, a few miles south of downtown Seattle. I'm relieved to see that the hotel has a restaurant attached - O Sushi and Grill, a Japanese Steakhouse and Lounge.
I check in to my room at the bustling hotel. There seem to be several events happening at the same time here this weekend -- a wedding, a business meeting and a reunion of some kind. The front desk efficiently deals with the hubbub, seeming to spring into full action to keep everyone happy. The lobby is big, comfortable and full of happy customers. I like this place.
I go to my room and peel off my leathers. I'm going back and forth -- I'm just a few miles from downtown Seattle, with its bustling nightlife, tourist attractions and gourmet restaurants. On the other hand, I'm just steps away from a very well reviewed Japanese restaurant, and I've been craving sushi and saké ever since my tasting at Momokawa yesterday.
I decide to stay on the hotel grounds, and I head over to O Sushi for dinner. It turns out to be the right decision. The food is great, the atmosphere friendly and the service outstanding. I have some sushi, some sashimi and some grilled chicken. I even have some Momokawa saké with my meal. My waiter is very curious about learning to ride a motorcycle, and we have a great conversation about how to get started.
After dinner, I retire to my room for a good night's sleep. Even though the hotel lobby was bustling, my room is serene and quiet -- a restful oasis after a hot day on a bike.
In the morning, I eat my last free meal in the hotel's big breakfast room, suck down some coffee and pack up the motorcycle for the ride back to the dealership. I check out of the hotel and ride back to Bellevue.
The folks at Eastside Harley-Davidson are glad to see me. Returning the bike takes just a few minutes. I repack my gear into my suitcase, which Eastside has been kind enough to hang on to for me during my ride. I've got a few minutes before my car service will pick me up to get back to the airport, so I troll the dealership for a souvenir. I find a cool dealership hat, and hand over my credit card to make it my own.
The car service is right on time, and I get to the airport with plenty of slack in my schedule. It's a relatively short flight home, just two and a half hours. I spend some time onboard the airplane looking out the window, trying to catch a glimpse of the Oregon Coast below. It sure was a beautiful ride.
Now, I'm home, and only one question remains: Where should I ride next?
Miles ridden: 210
Total miles ridden: 1,162