Sunday, February 7, 2010

Fourth and Goal

Portland, OR
9:00 pm

I'm almost home. Today was the last day of interesting riding. Tomorrow, a half day on I5 and I'll be home.

It was a gorgeous Sunday's ride today. From Crescent City I took US 101 up the Oregon coast as far as Reedsport. If California's Pacific Coast Highway ("PCH") is Pablo Picasso in a Porsche, US 101 is a PBS film crew in a minivan. It's an immensely practical highway, all gentle curves, legible signs, new stripes and, of all things, guard rails. It's also apparently hydrophobic: for most of its length it runs inland from the wild Oregon coastline. There are plenty of places where it forgets itself and creeps up to the edge of the cliffs to peer nervously over the guard rail until, after a few minutes of vertigo-inducing scenery, it stumbles back to the safety of the woods.

But for all its timidity, it's a very relaxing way to see a wild and animated coastline and one of the few highways of its type that allows motorcyclists the chance to ride sweeping curves and sightsee simultaneously without risking immediate and messy death.

One of my favorite features of US 101 in Oregon is the bridges. These are big bridges spanning big rivers. Most were built in the '30s and are as notable for their Art Deco features as for their engineering. The Patterson Bridge over the Rogue River is typical:

It was the first bridge in the US built using the newly-developed "French method" of bridge construction. It's entrance detail is typical of the Oregon river bridges:

Today's real treat was Lower Smith River road, an 85 mile game of Snakes and Ladders connecting Reedsport with Eugene, OR on I5. The first ten miles out of Reedsport and the last twenty seven into Eugene are deceptively neat, well-maintained sections of county road.

The middle section is very different. I've decided to call it the "Hobbit Highway": little more than a single lane of pocked pavement following every twist and turn of the Smith River, bordered by ferns, overhung with mossy trees and blessed with Elfin-esque vistas at every turn.

Hobbit trees:

Elf waterslide:

Rock walls:

And scene after scene like this:

All of this beauty comes at a price. Like all coastal backroads in the winter, Smith River Road is liberally coated with a layer of fine and extremely slippery green moss. In some places it grows only on the shoulder:

Most of the time it grows across the shaded part of the road, which often (and very inconveniently) is the entire width of the road in the second half of a blind corner. Add this to the usual collection of winter "spooge" and the road will quickly claim any rider who does not have a surgeon's touch on the bars and a good set of tires.

There are other hazards:

If you're up to a technically challenging ride, it's definitely worth riding. Allow two full hours minimum, have plenty of daylight and, ideally, ride with a buddy. If you break down or crash out here, you're screwed.

Here's today's ride, a short, stimulating 385 miles:

Not a long day but I'm surprisingly worn out. I feel pretty much like this:

See you tomorrow for the final instalment.