Cape Lookout, Cascade Head, Cape Foulweather.
Surf-sculpted rocks on the Oregon Coast near Cape Foulweather.
The rain began to fall a little after midnight. By morning it was coming down in earnest. “How did you sleep?” I asked a soggy Christophe as he climbed out of his tent at first light.
“Like sheet,” he said, “my tent leaked all night. Everyting ees soaked. His panniers were packed and he was attaching them to his bike. “Let’s geet going.”
Christophe and I had agreed the night before that we would ride together and I was looking forward to the companionship. We rode out of camp, turned south and started up Cape Lookout, the first of the three capes we’d be climbing that day. The climb clocks in at two-point-seven miles and it’s one of the steepest roads in Oregon. As we pedaled along the flat section before the ascent began, I had strung out a pretty good lead on Christophe and was feeling good about my physical condition. I was thinking that if I could out pace a guy who’d already ridden most of the way around the world, then, I must be in better shape than I thought. My mom was right, I thought, I am special!
As the climb began, I shifted into granny gear and settled into the mind set required for a big climb; Go down on the drops, start slow and ignore the temptation to charge up the mountain, keep a steady rhythm, drop your heel and keep your eyes focused on the road just in front of the front wheel. Try to think about something else. Go to your happy place.
I was in the zone, feeling good and pedaling along at about three miles per hour, when Christophe passed me on the left. As he pulled in front I caught a whiff of burning tobacco. I looked up and saw great plumes of blue smoke wafting around his head. An image of The Little Engine That Could flashed through my mind. Somehow, while riding in a steady downpour, he’d managed to hand-roll a cigarette, light it and keep it going while charging up one of the steepest hills I’d ever seen. He’d passed me and he was widening the gap.
As I labored up the hill, all the while chuckling at my own hubris, I thought about the day ahead. I had two more climbs similar to this one to do. That in itself is challenge enough, but throw in the fact that I had to do over sixty miles to boot… I shook my head, thinking, what did I get myself into?
As I reached the top, I could see Christophe at the side of the road waiting for me. He was smoking a cigarette and leaning casually against his bike. “How you doing?” He asked cheerfully, “what you tink of zee climb?”
I pulled over and tried to catch my breath. Sweat had been running down my face badly stinging my left eye. I had to keep reaching up to massage it and it had thrown off my rhythm. The climb had been, for me at least, one long uninterrupted torture session. “Nothin’ to it,” I said, “piece of cake.”
Christophe gave me a confused look. “You want cake? I have no cake. I have water, you want water?”
I laughed, “No, I don’t want cake, it’s just a saying.”
Christophe smiled, “You Americans…” He shook his head, took a puff off his cigarette, climbed on his bike and started off down the hill.
The rain continued in fits and starts throughout the morning, but after the big climb up Cape Lookout, the riding was pleasant enough. The road along this section of the coast, aside from the three monster climbs over the capes, is rolling hills. Although Christophe left me far behind climbing up the hills, I would blast past him on the downhill legs. I could usually outpace him on the flats, too, but I attribute both cases to the difference in our bikes. Mine is more road bike, with a sturdy, but relatively lightweight frame. My tires, while wide for a racer are much narrower than what you’d find on a typical mountain bike like the one Christophe was riding—they’ll be more about his amazing bicycle later. He’d wait for me at the tops of the hills and I’d wait for him if I lost sight of him on the flats. It was a symbiotic relationship that made for comfortable riding at a decent pace.
After about two hours of pedaling, I spied a fruit stand/coffee shop on the right-hand side of the road. We were still on the Three Capes Scenic Route and wouldn’t rejoin 101 for several miles yet, so traffic was light. I crossed the road and pulled into the parking lot. I looked back down the road for Christophe. I waited five minutes, then ten. After fifteen minutes, I headed back the way I’d come. Obviously, Christophe had run into trouble. I pedaled up the road a mile or two until I spotted him stopped at the shoulder. He was bent over the bike fiddling with something. I pulled up behind him. “What’s the problem?” I asked.
"Zee chain, she keeps coming off!"
Christophe stood up, rubbed his back, and scratched his head. “Zee chain, she keeps coming off.”
I took a look. “Christophe,” I said, “your derailleur is out of adjustment.”
“Can you feex her?” he asked.
“Well you just need to screw down the high gear stop a little.”
I pointed to the little screw. “You know this little thing.”
Christophe shrugged. “I know noting of such tings.”
“You don’t know how to adjust your derailleur?” I asked.
“I can feex a flat tire, zat ees all.”
I stared at him in astonishment. “You’ve ridden halfway around the world and you don’t know how to fix your bike?’
“Whenever he break down, someone come along to feex heem for me. I geet my bike feexed and I make a new friend.”
“You subscribe to the Blanche Dubois school of thought when it comes to bicycle repair?”
“Blanche Dubois from Streetcar Named Desire,” Christophe said. “I’ve always relied on zee kindness of strangers…”
After I adjusted the derailleur, I gave his whole bike a quick check-up. It’s a mountain bike of indeterminate brand that he bought on a trip through Thailand ten years before, and named, "Takian," which is Thai for bicycle. Over time he’d replaced the original components with a hodge-podge of various gear changers, chain rings, brakes, wheels, handlebars, tires, panniers, saddle and fenders as needed. No two items matched up exactly, or were necessarily even manufactured on the same continents, but through trial and error, he’d assembled all these disparate parts into a smooth-working, if exotic-looking bicycle. "Zis tire," Christophe said proudly, "I got eet een Russia!" The frame was adorned with stickers from all over the world. “I need to geet a steecker for zee Oregon coast,” he told me as I checked the various components, “eef you see a good one, get eet for me.”
I got Christophe’s bike working, then, we rode to the fruit stand where we bought pastries, coffee and a hot chocolate. “You riding up Cascade Head?” The guy behind the counter asked.
“Yup, we just finished Cape Lookout. I understand it’s the hardest one.”
“You wait till you tackle Cascade Head,” he said, “it’s longer, steeper and harder.”
“That's no good," I said, "I need to make time." I glanced nervously over my shoulder. "What's the police presence like around here?" I was thinking about the run-in I'd had in Cannon Beach over an unresolved bar bill. Would she have reported me? The waitress had seemed sympathetic to my predicament, still, the books have to balance.
I could hear her now, weeping as she broke down under interrogation, "He talked real fast, officer, and sweat a lot, shifty looking..." it would be impossible for me to hide out here on the highway and running was out of the question. It would be easy for them to simply pull up along side and throw a net over me.
I shook off all negative thoughts and concentrated on the map.
For some reason, I had it in my mind that the middle climb, Cascade Head, was something less than Cape Lookout, but upon re-reading the description, my heart sank. It looked like the next climb would be equally hard. I kept it to myself, though, no point mentioning it to Christophe, the poor bastard would find out soon enough.
As it turned out Cascade Head was tough, but whether I had just warmed up or maybe the extra food had given me more energy, it didn’t seem as hard as Cape Lookout. I only lagged behind Christophe by about fifteen minutes.
Around 1:00 we reached Lincoln City. The rain had let up and the sun came out. We stopped alongside a golf course and took off our rain gear. As we rode through town, I spotted a Safeway and shouted to Christophe to pull in. I wanted to get some groceries for the evening and wasn’t sure I’d have another chance at a supermarket before Beverly Beach. I did my shopping while Christophe waited outside and guarded our bikes. When we were back on the road, Christophe pulled up alongside. “We zee American films in France. All zee men are strong and fit and zee women are slim and beautiful. But when I come to America, everyone I zee ees zo fat! While I was waiting for you outside zee store, I counted three fat people for every four people I saw!”
“I can’t argue with you there,” I said, “look at me, I’m overweight by about twenty pounds.”
Christophe smiled, “Don’t worry, you weel loose zem when you ride around zee world.”
As with much of the ride, this section had some spectacular scenery including some fantastic caves and rock channels into which the surf boiled and exploded in great geysers of foam and spray. Since the weather had improved, we decided to take it easy for the rest of the day and made many stops to enjoy the Oregon coast at its best.
It was late afternoon as we rolled into the last town, Depoe Bay, before our destination, Beverly Beach. Christophe wanted to stop and get coffee so we pulled into a convenience store. I walked the isles but didn’t see anything that interested me. I suddenly realized that I was very tired. We’d come over fifty-five miles so far and had about six to go. We still had to climb over the last cape, Cape Foulweather, but it was the smallest of the three and after that, we’d get to make camp for the day. I was a little worried that I might bonk on this last hill but there was nothing for it but to keep going.
Christophe named his bike "Takian", which is Thai for bicycle. He was addamant that I come up with a name for my trusty Trek 520. Suggestions, anyone?
I’m guessing Cape Foulweather was short and sweet. I say I guess because I think I must have been in a kind of fatigue-induced trance those last few miles; the only memory I have of that section is when we coasted down the last hill into Beverly Beach. It’s one of the nicest beaches along the whole Oregon Coast. It’s wide and composed of beautiful tan sand. The late afternoon sun shone down on children and dogs splashing and racing in the surf. Throw in a few palm trees and bikini-clad roller bladders and it could have been a scene out of Southern California.
My longest, hardest day to date; sixty-two miles over three big climbs.
P.S. I don't remember taking this picture.
We rode into the park, registered for the hiker/biker site and set up camp. I cooked a meager dinner, then, turned in early.
I’d pedaled more than sixty-two miles that day over three big hills and man, I was beat. I don’t believe I had another mile in me. I’d ridden the toughest ride of my life and though I was sore and dazed, I could still walk and talk. Well, that was something, I thought. Tomorrow would be another sixty-plus miles and I was confident that with a good night’s sleep I would be recovered by morning.
It just goes to show how wrong a biker can be.
Tomorrow: Day Six: Beverly Beach to Jessie M. Honeyman
We celebrate my last day on the coast.