After a much-needed night in the Comfort Inn, we got a bit of a late start on the day, leaving Cottage Grove around 10:30am. It was extremely difficult to get out of the comfy sleeping conditions (little roadside motels become a luxury on bike trips), but we managed to stumble over to the lobby for the free continental breakfast. I ate quite a bit, but Anthony definitely attempted to bankrupt the establishment via consumption!
Back on the route, we entered the Cottage Grove bike path that heads east along the banks of Lake Dorena. While the town of Cottage Grove did not meet the shiny expectations we formed from viewing the Covered Bridges Scenic Bikeway video here, the bike path really is impressive.
The smoothly paved, asphalt path is easy riding and allows the mind to wander without fear of being struck down by motor vehicles. We also had many excellent views of Lake Dorena. The only real disappointment during our 15+ miles on the Row River Trail was that we saw but did not pass under a single covered bridge. Other riders we overheard at a rest stop had a similar complaint. Oh well! Still a pleasure to ride.
After the end of the bike path, the climbing began in earnest on Sharpe’s Creek Road, where we began to notice active mining claims and the complete absense of vehicles. We counted ten cars in the next couple hours of riding and our focus was redirected towards the embankments alongside the road. From time to time, miniature rockslides put a dose of fear into us and again we sensed that animals were watching us from deep within the trees. It’s striking how the elimination of constant contact with humanity brings about a heightened feeling of trepidation.
Anthony mentioned that he was happy to know that this part of his prehistoric brain had been preserved. This was one of many philosophical epiphanies we shared on this trip, most of which have now returned to my subconscious, but hopefully are not forgotten altogether. I’m not at all sure that what we experienced that afternoon was anything more than imagination let loose, but I agree with him anyway; it’s nice to think we used a sixth sense on that lonely stretch of road.
It could also be that we were just utterly exhausted, because this section of the day’s ride was also a 5-mile climb with over 2,000 feet of elevation gain. This works out to an 8% average grade, or pretty much the steepest a climb of this length ever gets on paved roads. For my friends back home, it most closely resembles the combination of Old San Marcos Road and Painted Cave…with touring gear in tow!
After descending most of the way down the other side of that climb, the miles were taking their toll, and as we were again short on water, we decided to pull over and boil some Umpqua River elixir. As luck would have it, there was a day-use area with an appealing swimming hole on the side of the road.
We made some food and boiled water, whilst simultaneously “river-chilling” two Mirror Pond Ales I had been grinding up the mountain with all day. This deliciously flavorful yet light beer from Deschutes Brewery became the official beer of our bike tour and this spot was, perhaps, the best of several sessions with it.
A word about this little piece of heaven we spent an hour taking in: I’ve only now come to know it as Scaredman Creek. I can only surmise they have named it in the convening period since our departure, what with the fear of rockslides and mountain lions from above, our wilting bodies crying from within, and the sun rapidly setting. Still, it was a fantastic place to be at that moment in time.
After our welcome respite, it was time to get a move on before the sun dropped too low overhead. The late start gave us a more restricted window with which to complete the 73-mile day and we had another steep climb, albeit a bit short, still to come. Before that climb came, however, we crossed the aptly-named Happy Creek and found Umqua’s Last Resort and accompanying general store.
The bounty of the rural general store is another of those treasures only truly appreciated by the hiker/biker set. We feasted on salted fare and stocked up on foodstuffs and IPA and Riesling to get us through the night. The Dry Creek General Store was staffed by two exceedingly friendly individuals who made our stop their even more pleasant. They explained that cyclists are not unusual for to the area, although touring cyclists are quite rare.
The last miles to our camp were covered with the resolve that comes with from a mostly-hydrated and fed touring cyclist who is ready for the day’s ride to cease. As we crested the last climb of the day, we had just another of the many unmarked forks in the road to decipher. Before moving on with the benefit of our Garmin 500 GPS units (completely necessary and incredibly appreciated during the second half of our bike trip), we stopped to look out over the expanse of wilderness below us.
Our camp was to be Toketee Lake Campground, and as we cruised into camp nearing dark, we rapidly selected a site away from scattered car-campers and close to a stream. The general theme over the last two days being, “if there’s a stream that you can walk to, take advantage of it,” we figured this would be the perfect place to spend the night.
Within a few minutes, I found my eyes lingering on the bark of the surrounding trees, or rather the bark that was conspicuously absent. After mentioning it to Anthony, he noticed that what appeared to be drawstrings once attached to food bags were dangling from hooks nailed into the trees all around us. There was no doubt about it. This campsite would not do. Bears.
We relocated to a new campsite in the center of the campground, intentionally wedging ourselves amongst a few groups of campers with cars, just in case we had a night-time visitor of size and determination. We scavenged half-burnt wood from nearby fire-rings and picked up what deadwood we could find and Anthony made a very agreeable fire. We drank all the IPA and Riesling that night, sharing some great campfire conversation and trying to put the thought of beasts in the darkness far from thought. When the alcohol was drunk and the fire had also taken its course, we settled into what was an uneasy, but uneventful night.