Friday, April 26, 2013

Corvallis to Newport by Bike

On Tuesday, 23 April 2013, at 6:00 am, I set out to bike to the coast.  This was my first long bike trip; I had biked to Albany and back a few times (22 mile round trip), but this trip is 65 miles over mountains.


In preparation, I found the following resources helpful for a beginner:
  • The guy who runs the local Corvallis Bike N Hike was very helpful.  When I got my bike tuned up, I asked him for the best route to Newport, and he directed me on the path I would eventually take.
  • These maps from RideWithGPS.com and MapMyRide.com that provided elevation and mile marker info.
  • This blog post by Pete, an Australian who is as much a duffer as I am who made the trip pulling a trailer, which convinced me that the trip was feasible for a newbie like me.
  • The Coast to Valley Bus that takes you and your bike from Newport to Corvallis for only $10.  It departs Newport City Hall (169 SW Coast Hwy) at 6:30, 8:45, 3:00, and 5:20 seven days a week (full schedule).  Although I was planning on biking back, it was nice to know this was an option.  An option that I ultimately took.
I decided to blog a leg-by-leg account of my trip, focusing on the details I wish I had known before going in so this might be helpful for other first-timers.

First Leg - Corvallis to Blodgett

The elevation charts on these maps go left to right, while the route goes right to left.
It took me about 90 minutes to make it to Blodgett from The Benton County Fairgrounds.

Things to look for:
  • mile 4.6 - At the point where Highway 34 forks off to the left, the bike lane disappears, and the shoulder is very small.  The shoulder reappears after a mile or two, but for the next 10 miles your sharing Highway 20 with logging trucks and RVs.  The traffic can be fast and heavy.  I think I benefited from the early hour and the weekday.
  • From mile 6.5 to 7.8 and from mile 10.3 to 11.8 - There are two steep climbs; fortunately there are passing lanes on these climbs, so traffic can give you some room.
  • Logging Country
  • There is a market in Blodgett where the Summit Highway meets Highway 20.  This is a good spot to rest.
In retrospect, this was possibly the most challenging leg, both in regards to the climbing and the stressful traffic.  If you found this stretch difficult, don't worry, it gets better from here (except for the 2 miles of gravel road at mile 24).

Second Leg - Blodgett to Hamar Lake


At first I was uncertain about the fact that the Summit Highway has no shoulder, but after a few miles I realized that there was so little traffic, that it was no problem.  I was passed maybe 3 times in 7 miles.

Things to look for:
  • mile 20.2 to 20.9 - This is a steep 400 ft drop.  You can take this as fast as your bike can go - it's curvy enough to be thrilling, but not so much that it's scary.  This half mile just might be the highlight of the whole trip!
  • mile 24.6 - At Nashville, there is a fork in the road:

Go right.

I went left.

Gah!  10 miles later, I was in Eddyville on Highway 20.  The sign said it was 25 miles to Newport, and I seriously considered just taking Highway 20 to Newport (that would have been a bad idea).  I decided to backtrack the 10+ miles back to Nashville.


Wouldn't you know it, on my way back I got a flat tire.  Fortunately I had a portable pump, so I could fill the tire long enough to get back to Nashville where I could change the tire (and fortunately, I had a brought a spare tube).

I took a lunch break in Nashville to recover from my 20+ mile detour, and by the time I got going again it was 11:30, and I had taken off some layers because it was finally getting warm.


Things to look for:
  • mile 24.0 - Hamar Lake

  • mile 24.0 - Pavement ends, an the road becomes gravel for 2 miles.

This 2 mile stretch of gravel is definitely the least pleasant stretch of the trip.  There are logging trucks on it that kick up a lot of dust.  The ride up was steep and I had to walk a section of it (I blame my 20 mile detour, I bet I could make it if I was only 25 miles in instead of 45), but I found the ride down even more stressful, I had to ride my brakes down because it was difficult to navigate the sharp turns at high speed without skidding.
  • mile 26.0 - The gravel ends and the pavement resumes.  Congratulations, the worst part is over!
It was 12:00 pm when I got to the end of the gravel road.  If it hadn't been for the detour, I think this would have been a good spot to stop for lunch.  I think it's reasonable to get here from Blodgett in less than 2 hours under ordinary conditions.

Third Leg - Hamar Lake to Siletz


It took me about 2 hours to ride this stretch.  It was 2:00 pm when I arrived in Siletz.

This 20 mile stretch is quite pleasant, and can be done in one go because the road is well-paved, and relatively flat.

Although the Elevation chart shows more down than up.  It didn't feel like it because of the strong headwind that hit at around the mile 36 mark.

Fourth Leg - Siletz to Toledo

It took me only 40 minutes to ride this stretch.

This is a very short leg (8 miles), but there's a Dairy Queen in Toledo that is a really nice stopping point, and the last twelve mile stretch is long enough without tacking this bit on to it.

Things to watch for:
  • mile 44.4 - there is a short climb that starts here, but it drops further than it climbs
  • The highway has shoulders, but they are cluttered with branches and a worrisome amount of broken glass.
  • The traffic picks up here and was mildly stressful after growing accustomed to the relative calm of the previous legs.

Last Leg - Toledo to Newport


This took me a full 2 hours to complete, even though it's only 13 miles.  There was some stiff wind that I assume is probably pretty reliable, and also I was exhausted.

There is a 12 mile tour of Yaquina Bay that begins and ends with hills, but is more-or-less at sea level the rest of the way around.  It's a very pleasant and scenic detour that adds about 9 miles to the route, but bypasses a particularly unpleasant 3 mile stretch of Highway 20.

Sunset on the Pacific
I arrived in Newport at about 5:00 pm.

Some Questions I had before I started:

Q. Is my bike adequate for this trip?

A. Yup. It turns out that my bike is more than adequate.  It's not a specialized touring or racing bike, but a hybrid bike that I got because I intended to use it for commuting.  I'm sure this trip is basic enough for any standard road, touring, or mountain bike.

Q. Do I need special gear for the trip?

A. Not much.  I brought rain gear because this is the Northwest, but I didn't need it.  I brought lights in case I had to bike in the dark, but I didn't have to.  I was never more than 20 miles from civilization so I didn't need camping gear.  I splurged on nifty saddlebags as a birthday present to myself, but my old milk crate strapped on with zip-ties would have worked just fine.  I am extremely grateful that I bought a really nice portable pump.

Q. Am I in-shape enough for this trip?

A. Just barely.  I'm a middle-aged guy with a small gut (6'0", 185#) who doesn't work out, but I eat healthy and bike everywhere I go, so there are lots of guys in better shape than me and lots of guys in worse shape.  I managed the first 65 miles of the trip before burning out.  If I hadn't gotten lost, 65 miles would have been enough to get me there.

Final Tips:

  • I am really glad that I brought a spare tube and a portable pump.
  • I really wish I had brought sunscreen.
  • Go right at Nashville.



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