2014 Oregon Bike Tour Day 4: Florence to Cottage Grove

Florence to Cottage Grove Bicycle

Knowing we had a long and unpredictable day ahead of us, Anthony and I were the first to rise from what had been a late night. After several days of breaking camp under our belts, the routine was becoming quick and efficient. Before we left Honeyman Campground entirely though, one more peek at the dunes and Cleawox Lake was in order. Much as it had been two years earlier on my last morning viewing, the lake and dunes were blanketed by fog, although this time the skies were already clearing above the serene morning below.

IMG_2596[1]The first few miles south after Honeyman State Park features several lakes. One in particular, I had remembered from my previous trip. A photo I had taken from the roadside of Tahkenitch Lake had been calling to me for most of the previous day’s riding, and I knew that this place had to be coming soon. We were so impressed by this lake that we spent a good half-hour there, hanging out on the dock and then eating blackberries from a nearby bush. It would have been easy to stay longer, perhaps for the rest of the day, but we rousted ourselves and got back to riding.

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We entered the Reedsport area (actually Gardiner – just north of Reedsport), wondering aloud what the previous incarnation of this place had been. A number of large, abandoned or at least underutilized buildings sit at the confluence of the Smith and Umpqua Rivers. We surmised that their might once have been a booming logging industry here, as we had just passed through an area of forest that was clearcut, a veritable arbor boneyard. As it turns out, that guess was mostly correct, as Gardiner was the first West Coast plant location for the International Paper Co. A detailed history of the city, which is now recognized by the US government as an “historical place” is available here.

One of the greatest culinary delights of our trip occurred in the unassuming town of Reedsport, where after 20 miles riding, we made our breakfast stop. I knew the place because Johanna and I had stopped there for breakfast as well, and again, Harbor Light Family Restaurant did not disappoint! I ordered a delicious meal of fresh marionberry pancakes and wild boar sausage and Anthony gorged on french toast, eggs, english muffins, and so on. Much coffee was drunk, charging of the batteries both figurative and literal occurred, and by the time we left the place, we were entirely sated.

For the second, but certainly not the last time on the day, we left a place wishing we could linger a bit longer. Within just a few miles up the Umpqua river, it happened again. This was to be the day of too many worthy stopping places and not enough hours of light.

Dean’s Creek Elk Viewing Area is a Bureau of Land Management designated site, a reclaimed marshland grazing space and an outstanding opportunity to spot the great elk. As happenstance would have it, Anthony flatted (mercifully, this time just a front flat) as we entered the viewing area so we took the opportunity to sit and watch and photograph and be yet again astounded by the beauty of nature. Picturesque is not a good enough word to describe it and my photos won’t do it full justice either. Suffice it to say, Dean’s Creek is another of Oregon’s “magical places.” We even got to observe a dominant buck courting his harem of lady-elk, making the screeching sound that elk sometimes make, thrashing his antlers about — being “the man.” Again, we stayed put for too long, but refused to regret it.

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For about 20 miles we followed the Umpqua River along HWY 38, constantly in awe, consistently dismounting for photo and video opportunities, loving every minute, but increasingly nervous about the length of logging roads and backwoods to come.

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And then it came upon us. The 50-mile, deserted logging road where we saw a grand total of four souls in at least as many hours. Punctuated by the “Hill from Hell,” a two-mile and 9% grade beast of a climb, this road most certainly took a year off of our lives. There were concerns about water shortage (which ended up being unfounded since the route followed the Smith River most of the way). There were eery suspicions that we were being watched from the forests that densely lined the quiet road (almost definitely legit, but probably not overly dangerous). There were moments when we began to doubt our own bodies and their willingness to complete this 105-mile day.

Five hours after it began, we finally reached the other side of our journey through the unnamed backwoods. We were pushed to the edge in many ways by this section of road, but it was also a true highlight for me. I have never been on such a decent quality road, with such impressive scenery, so far from civilization, and it did my spirit good to experience it.

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As we emerged from the rubble of our own frailty, thirsty, hungry, tired, a bit broken, but awash in the glow of nature, a sign for the town of Lorane appeared. Our pace quickened, turning to an out-and-out sprint (or what may have looked like a senior citizens “walker race”) into the town gas station. After thoroughly ravaging the snack bins and cold beverages, we hopped on Lorane to Cottage Grove Road, which conveniently removed the guesswork from our navigation at the end of the day.

We reached our hotel room near dark with a pain not even the Comfort Inn can remedy. Unwilling to ride a single mile further to dine downtown, we ordered and consumed delivery pizza in short order and passed out.

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